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Marcel II

Jun 16, 2007, 5:43 PM 1

Marcel Duchamp was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic personages from the 20th century. When he pushed aside art in favor of chess, he upset even his more ardent of supporters. It was as bad, or worse, a Dylan going electric. It all really began on his trip to Buenos Aires. When he returned he devoted himself to raising his level of play to it highest level. But during the trip to South America, he designed a chess set about which there's been some debate. The commonly accepted idea is that he made the set himself except for the Knight, which he hired a local craftman to carve by hand. Amost all authoritative books on Duchamp mention this. However, Larry List, who documented the Imagery of Chess Revisited show in 2003, argued quite convincingly that all the pieces but the Knight were obviously turned on a lathe. While Duchamp created machine and kinetic art, he never used machines to create the art. As a matter of fact, Duchamp liked to create with his hands. While in Buenos Aires, he carved a set of stamps for illustrating chess positions in correspondence games. List suggests, even insists, that Duchamp hired a local to turn the pieces on a lathe, while he himself carved the Knight by hand.

Duchamp's chess-set

Marcel Duchamp's chess-set, 1919

Duchamp's White knight

Duchamp's White knight

 Duchamp's 1925 poster

1925 French Championship poster, designed by Duchamp


The Imagery of Chess show in 1944-5 took place in the Julien Levy's Gallery. As part of the program, George Koltanowski gave a 6-board  blindfold exhibition as shown in the photograph below (taken from Dorothea Tanning's memoirs - she is the "me" in the caption.) Koltanowski won 5 games, but allowed architect Frederick Kiesler to draw.

1944 Blindfold Exhibition, Levy Gallery

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