Man Ray was a ground-breaking American artist and experimental photographer, perhaps best known for his X-ray-style “rayographs” made with his own innovative photo-darkroom techniques, but without cameras. He spent much of his life in Paris and was a colleague of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Man Ray died more than thirty years ago, but much of his work can be found carefully archived in a custom interiors shop called AutoMat in Hicksville on New York’s Long Island. The shop is owned by Eric Browner and operated by his family.
The shop’s auto interior -oriented showroom would not be mistaken for a museum and gives little clue to the art treasures housed nearby, which is lined with upholstered seat covers, it is the headquarters of the Man Ray Trust, which contains about 4,500 works from the artist’s estate. Now, the collection is being privately shopped to museums.
Man Ray’s art wound up in Long Island because the artist’s late wife, Juliet, set up the original trust before she passed away in 1991. Since her death everything has been passed down to her brother, Eric and his extended family, which owns the custom upholstery shop. The family knew very little about Man Ray but is now preparing to transfer ownership to a museum, with an expected valuation of about $20 million.
Eric Browner, now 86 years old, manages 15,000 copyrights for the artist and oversees licensing contracts worth roughly $300,000 a year.
Mr. Browner, who lives in Florida, told media sources that he’s been feeling family pressure lately to sell the archive before he dies. The trust’s proceeds are to be split among about a dozen heirs.