Then and Now: Two Jewish surrealists strongly linked to San Francisco

The world’s most famous Jewish surrealist, Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky, 1890-1976), is waiting for you now at the Legion of Honor, where the exhibition “Man Ray/Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism” has just opened. Demonstrating the mutual influence of the two great artists — who were also lovers — the show explores the nature of their collaboration beyond the idea of Miller as muse.

Wallace Berman’s “Self Portrait Crater Lane” (1955) photo/© Wallace Berman Estate

Man Ray had no significant relationship with San Francisco, but two major Jewish surrealists did — and Fog City was a collaborator in the work of both. The first, Wallace Berman (1926-1976), can hardly be pigeonholed artistically, but his magazine Semina (itself the subject of a recent show at the Berkeley Art Museum) influenced and was influenced by surrealism, the Beats and Kabbalah.

Polish-born Rose Mandel (1910-2002), who moved to the Bay Area after World War II, was an early practitioner of “sequential imaging,” which she evolved as she wandered the streets of San Francisco in the 1940s. After her husband died, Mandel put her energy into working as a photographer in the Art Department at U.C. Berkeley from 1948 until 1967. Her work was featured in a major recent exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “In Wonderland: Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists.”

This column is provided to j. by Daniel Schifrin, writer-in-residence at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where stories of local Jewish life are explored in “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present.”