Braude leans heavily on both Kiki’s and Man Ray’s memoirs; his writing is occasionally slack, and his deployment of art history can be perfunctory...But that matters little when you’re under Kiki’s spell, and he has written a biography worthy of her, alive with anecdote and incident...You just become so glad to know her — at least, I did, after having thought of her, stupidly, as an adjunct to other artists...She was a marvel, and her triumph feels so far-fetched, the space that she opened for herself as a poor woman in a rich city: 'How in this violent, money-mad world that makes no space for its Kikis,' as Braude says, in a lovely passage, 'its Kikis have always found some way to make themselves feel at home.'
... an irresistible romp through 1920s Paris ... vibrant prose as beguiling as Kiki herself ... Braude’s exuberant, absorbing biography stands Kiki at the 'white-hot center' of 1920s Montparnasse, reclaiming her rightful place.
Kiki Man Ray eschews straightforward biography for an impressionistic portrait, a meditation on how artists fomented a movement while loving and despising each other...Despite the rare misstep—Mr. Braude calls Alfred Stieglitz 'Arthur'—the book is its own enchantment...With the immediacy (if not the intimacy) of Patti Smith’s 'Just Kids,' he transports us back to the City of Light just after World War I, reeling from the butchery of millions of young soldiers...At the dawn of the Jazz Age, it seemed everyone wanted to kick up their heels, drink champagne and sleep around...Mr. Braude lavishly evokes this milieu, mining Kiki and Man Ray’s memoirs and correspondence, and supplementing them with accounts from friends, colleagues and patrons...Kiki Man Ray features cameos a-plenty: Duchamp, Picabia, Peggy Guggenheim, Picasso, Erik Satie, Hemingway...In the background looms the commodification of the avant-garde, ushered in by the Age of the Machine; no sooner had Dadaism reached its zenith then it gave way to Surrealism, as wealthy collectors (many of them American) scrambled for the next Big Thing...Kiki was foremost a catalyst, the right person at the right place at the right time, a fulcrum for Man Ray and others, her influence shaping the oeuvres of writers, filmmakers and singers...She played a poor hand brilliantly, shuffling identities as a declaration of selfhood, insisting on a cabaret of one’s own...She bridges the divide between the 19th-century model—think Victorine Meurent, Manet’s muse and herself an accomplished painter—and the autonomous, libertine women of her own era, such as Josephine Baker and Louise Brooks, and those that came after World War II...Kiki Man Ray rescues its protagonist from the dustbin of history and advocates eloquently for the vitality and importance of the world she helped to forge.
Mark Braude’s exuberantly entertaining biography sets out to rebalance the much-told story of Left Bank Paris, in which Kiki — model, memoirist and muse — is usually cast as a bit player. He brings that milieu to life in all its grit and energy — but also the larger sociopolitical pressures that myopic mythmaking leaves out: the still-vivid trauma of World War I and the growing conservative backlash against everything the cosmopolitan city represented ... For all its liveliness, this attempt at restoring Kiki to prominence does not quite succeed at making her memorable as an artist. Braude describes her as a talented, if uncommitted, painter, a realist among the Surrealists, whose art and temperament were rooted in tangible pleasures rather than abstract ideas ... What Kiki created did not accrue in value and status like the works of her peers. As Braude observes, markets and museums shape artistic legacies — and you can’t auction charisma.
In a brisk chronicle of Paris between the wars, cultural historian Braude features photographer, filmmaker, and painter Man Ray (1890-1976), born Emmanuel Radnitzky, and chanteuse, painter, and model Kiki, born Alice Ernestine Prin (1901-1953)...Both Man Ray, a Jewish New Yorker, and Kiki, who grew up poor in Burgundy, came to Paris to reinvent themselves and fulfill their dreams: Kiki’s, 'of falling in love with a poet, painter, or actor'; Man Ray’s, to be recognized as a painter...Braude notes, 'to describe all sorts of things: chicken giblets; someone’s neck (usually strangled or hanged); a cock’s crow; having a chat; having sex'...Alice eagerly adopted it...During their seven-year affair, she served as Man Ray’s muse as well as caretaker; but 'her physical presence, her erotic charms, her joyfulness, and her mental quickness' made her a vibrant force in a colorful world—and the heart of Braude’s history...A rich, affectionate look at bohemian Paris.