In the 1960s Jean Riboud was Man Ray’s most important collector in Paris. He was also chairman of Schlumberger, long time friend of Max Ernst, and brother of another celebrated photographer, Marc Riboud. He was something of a mystic with a great affinity for India, and his wife, Krishna, was a niece of the poet Tagore. On a visit to Riboud’s office, Man Ray spotted this steel cog, part of some new-fangled drilling equipment that Schlumberger were developing, and remarked that it was as beautiful as any modern sculpture, more honest and much better made. Riboud presented it to Man Ray who declared it a work of art, an objet trouvé, and took it home. Later he gave it to Jack Mayer, his friend, a flamboyant and perceptive art dealer in Paris, originally from Memphis Tennessee, and nephew of the even more flamboyant Auntie Mame. Jack was the only member of her family that Mame really loved, and she intended to leave her considerable fortune to him, but unfortunately, on her way to Europe by boat she unexpectedly died, having changed her will in favour of the local cats’ home because Jack’s letter to her before she departed never arrived. Jack found this turn of events hilarious, which was, of course, why she loved him.
Jack gave me a room in his Montparnasse apartment during my first year as a student in Paris. When he took me to dinner with Man Ray, we walked into his studio in Rue Ferou and found ourselves in total darkness. There was a sudden ratchety click and the beam from a projector lit up the far wall with a vintage black-and-white pornographic image. ‘The Italians in the 1930s produced by far the best pornographic photographs,’ were Man Ray’s first words to us from where he sat hunched over the projector. On the table beside him were two articulated wooden artist’s dolls, one of which he had fitted up with an erect phallus, and the other of which he had drilled with a hole. He arranged the dolls together into the same pose as the couple in the projected slide, and then took a photograph of them. He was, he explained, so fed up with seeing pornography pretending to be art that he had decided to do a book of art pretending to be pornography.