Author: Marijke Peyser
Man Ray left France immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War and settled in Hollywood. In 1946 he made La fortune III, which means both ‘chance’ and ‘fortune’. In his autobiography Self Portrait (1963) the artist explains how he made the object, which represents both meanings, for a lecture he gave in New York in 1946: ‘I was invited to give a talk on Surrealism. The only preparation I made for this was to construct an object that would demonstrate a Surrealist act. It consisted of a cardboard lottery wheel with its numbered segments and fixed arrow, mounted on a vertical board with a roll of toilet paper at the base. As the members filed into the gallery, each one was given a slip of folded toilet paper, bearing a number: there were, of course, many blanks as the number of people exceeded the figures on the wheel. … At the end of my conference I would turn the wheel of my contraption … (I) concluded by saying that brevity was one of its virtues, whatever other reservations one might have on the subject. … I gave a flip to the wheel of my object; it made a few revolutions and stopped with the arrow pointing to 15. A hand shot up in the audience holding the piece of paper with the number; I requested the bearer to step up front. He stood beside me while I spoke again for another minute, saying that after this dramatic moment for which everyone had been waiting, I’d be glad to answer any questions. Then, lifting my object with the lottery wheel, I handed it to the winner, saying this was a concrete example of Surrealism. The object bore the title: La fortune.’
The object had played its part, passed into the hands of another owner and was lost. There was, though, a photograph of it. In 1973, more than a quarter of a century later, Man Ray had a replica made in an edition of fifteen, produced by the publisher Sergio Tosi in Milan. The object owned by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the ‘épreuves d’artiste’ that were made for the artist himself. In the literature the work is known as La fortune III. Man Ray had already made two oil paintings with the same title, La fortune (1938) and La fortune II (1941). Both canvases depict a sloping billiard table of vast proportions, stretching to the horizon in a desert-like landscape. Man Ray explained the context to his biographer Arturo Schwarz: ‘I always wanted to have a billiard table in my garden. There is always an idea behind my paintings. The idea is interesting, not the image.’ ‘Chance’ continued to inspire the artist after 1946. His assemblage La fortune (1952) consists of a toy billiard table with a necklace on it. The necklace can take on different shapes when the little billiard table is moved.
These works show that Man Ray, and most of the other Surrealists with him, approached the creative process like a game, with plenty of room for chance. For Man Ray la fortune was une fortune: chance is worth a fortune, a circumstance that has to be grasped in a positive way.