The Getty Museum exhibition about the life and art of Lee Miller - legendary muse to Man Ray and other Surrealist artists - tells a vivid story worthy of a movie. In fact, Nicole Kidman has expressed interest in the project, and the playwright David Hare has written a script based on the memoirs of Lee Miller's husband, Roland Penrose, the British artist who introduced modern art to his fellow countrymen. Known for her beauty, smarts and talent, Lee Miller was born in 1907. Hers was a privileged bourgeois upbringing in an upstanding household in upstate New York, though it was a rather unorthodox childhood. Her father loved to photograph her nude and continued doing so until she was in her early 20's. And it's known that she was raped by a house guest when she was only seven.
Now fast forward to the streets of Manhattan, where 20 year-old Lee Miller, slim, fit and beautiful, is saved from being run over by a car. Her savior happened to be Cond- Nast. The next thing you know, he offers her a job as a model, though this career is cut short when she becomes the girl in an advertising campaign for sanitary napkins.
Fast forward again. In Paris she becomes model, muse and lover of Man Ray, whose nude photographs of her are inseparable from our knowledge and understanding of Surrealism. Their long relationship, personal as well as professional, was beneficial for both of them. Lee's interest in photograph blossomed into a lifelong commitment to the medium.
The Getty exhibition presents famous solarized portraits of her by Man Ray, who was clearly smitten by her beauty. These are juxtaposed with Lee Miller's own photographs, which hold their own quite well, thus confirming her strong standing among other Surrealist artists. Among her contributions is the accidental discovery of a solarization process that gives photographic portraits the appearance of a glow around the edges of the image. But it was Man Ray who appropriated this method and was credited with inventing it.
But ultimately, the show is stolen by her photographs made during World War II, when she was the first American photographer to document the horrors of the concentration camps and the evil banality of Hitler's private apartment in Munich. These images stay with you as unforgettable, heartbreaking documents while their power comes in no small measure from Lee Miller's sensibilities as a first-rate Surrealist artist.
"Surrealist Muse: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Man Ray"
February 25 - June 15, 2003
The Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049