|…Actually, I believe that every chess player experiences a mixture of two aesthetic pleasures: first the abstract image akin to the poetic idea in writing, second the sensuous pleasure of the ideographic execution of that image on the chessboards. From my close contact with artists and chess players I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists. In 1952 the New York State Chess Federation invited Duchamp to address its annual meeting. Duchamp’s remarks were succinct and intelligent, ending with the typically clever reversal quoted above; it was a notable honor. American Chess Master Edward Lasker said about Duchamp’s skill, “He is a very strong player.|
L. Brandon Krall
…Actually, I believe that every chess player experiences a mixture of two aesthetic pleasures: first the abstract image akin to the poetic idea in writing, second the sensuous pleasure of the ideographic execution of that image on the chessboards. From my close contact with artists and chess players I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.
In 1952 the New York State Chess Federation invited Duchamp to address its annual meeting. Duchamp’s remarks were succinct and intelligent, ending with the typically clever reversal quoted above; it was a notable honor. American Chess Master Edward Lasker said about Duchamp’s skill, “He is a very strong player. Of course, he never had the experience of playing regularly against professional masters, which is absolutely essential if you are going to become a champion. But Duchamp was a master among amateurs, and a marvelous opponent. He would always take risks in order to play a beautiful game, rather than be cautious and brutal in order to win.” Gallerist Julian Levy said, “Marcel wanted to show that an artist’s mind if it isn’t corrupted by money or success, can equal the best in any field. He thought that the artist’s mind, with its sensitivity to images and sensations, could do as well as the scientific mind, with its mathematical memory. He came damn close, too. But, of course, the memory boys were tougher, and they had trained for it from an early age. Marcel started too late in life.”
Duchamp played chess as a general pastime from his youth to his death; the period of his most intense involvement as an advanced chess player lasted from 1918, when he began to study in depth, to the late 1930s when he stopped playing competitively. The exhibition at the Naumann gallery is an expanded version of that which opened in the St. Louis University Museum of Art in May. It assembles a very rich concentration of exceptional works for contemplation and delectation, in particular the charcoal drawing, Study for Portrait of Chess Players, of 1911. Of especial interest is the fantastic folded paper invitation from a show at Julien Levy Gallery in 1943 called “Through the Big End of the Opera Glass,” and the original pen and ink, Cupid by Duchamp which is revelatory. It was used to make the invitation and Naumann has gone all the way in solving the hidden mystery, a rare chess problem created by Duchamp that can be seen through the translucent paper. There are chess sets by Max Ernst, Man Ray and Dali, photographs by Man Ray, Alexander Lieberman and others, and the printed matter is superb, including Juliette Roche’s graphic poem, N’Existe pas pole tempéré. A rare example of Duchamp’s poster for the Third French Chess Championship, held in 1925 in Nice, is there. It would have been pasted up in the streets and featured in the restaurants and bars of the Côte d’Azur. It is remarkable for the cranial shape of the king’s head which is echoed in the drawing and prints of the chess players and in the oil paintings from 1911.
The essay by Naumann is a fine work in its thorough and wide-ranging address to this very key aspect of Duchamp’s nature. The motif of chess runs through many years and a variety of media in Duchamp’s oeuvre, and in this exhibition and essays it is important to have cast a spotlight on the series of 6 drawings and prints related to the 2 existing oil paintings (in museum collections) of his brothers playing chess from 1911. Still it remains entirely moot to suggest chess as an underlying structure of The Large Glass, or as an intentional ‘game plan’ in the course of Duchamp’s life in general. Both are proposed by Naumann and Bradley Bailey in their essays for this exhibition. Bailey just touches on some interesting points, but attempts to justify major contentions about Duchamp, identified to the malic moulds and his knowledge of arcane chess hisotry, all of which is specious relying on secondary sources for arguments which are not fully examined, and which are in the school of Freudian interpretation of Duchamp’s character, which to this writer is quite a dubious path to follow.
Duchamp characteristically injected humor whenever possible into a situation; he added levity to the seriousness of society so naturally he would invent a “playful physics,” and he is said to have laughed when he played chess. The letterhead he designed for the Societé Anonyme features a knight like the one he designed for a correspondence set of rubber stamps. It is referred to as a “braying ass,” when it could just as easily be a chevalier with a cowlick. You can see his cowlick, not quite suppressed, in several profile images of Duchamp and in the photograph by Denise Bellon at the Rue Larrey studio, where Duchamp is seen with his vertical chess board and pieces, several of which are on view. During his 6 month stay in Buenos Aires in 1918, when Duchamp became obsessed with chess, he had a wooden chess set made. Naumann elucidates the previous general misunderstanding about the set, as put forth by curator Larry List, who studied it carefully. It had been stated in several texts that the set was all hand carved by Duchamp except for the knights; when according to List, all the pieces are evidently machine turned except for the knights. It is thus likely that Duchamp carved the knights himself; and they are marvelous creatures.
The book for this exhibition includes analyses of fifteen of Duchamp’s games, selected by Jennifer Shahade, two times the American Women’s Chess Champion. They are illustrated using the rubber stamp set Duchamp designed while living in Buenos Aires. The games are displayed in the gallery as well on a video monitor in the format of Duchamp’s Pocket Chess Set of 1943. Works by contemporary artists are also on view, including Yoko Ono’s chess pieces on a table with chairs called, Play It by Trust; everything is white.
The word ludic in Latin ludo, means to jouer to play, which is a thing to live for. You play chess and you kill but you don’t kill much, people live after being killed you see in chess but not in normal wars. Yeah it’s a peaceful thing it’s a peaceful way of understanding life. Play anything else not chess alone but all games, all games. Play with life then you are just as alive and more alive than people who believe in religion and art.