By 1923, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) had established himself as a singular force in the avant-garde art communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Then, suddenly, after two decades of unparalleled innovation and considerable controversy, he was reported to have quit making art in order to focus on his new passion: chess. Of course, Duchamp never quit being an artist; he was, however, thoroughly engaged in a radical redefinition of art that favored-much like chess-a more conceptual approach.
Following a brief excursion to Buenos Aires during 1918 and 1919, where he became a self-described "chess maniac," his interest in the game grew far beyond an idle pastime. He soon made it his objective to win the French Chess Championship. Between 1923 and 1933, chess dominated Duchamp's life as he competed in tournaments across Europe. Following several respectable performances, including a first-place finish at the Chess Championship of Haute Normandie in 1924, he was awarded the title of Chess Master by the French Chess Federation.
Though his objective of winning the French championship would never come to pass, Duchamp did succeed in representing France in numerous tournaments and Olympiads. He published a book on endgame tactics, extensively revised a classic analysis of opening strategies by the International Grandmaster Eugene Znosko-Borovsky, authored a chess column in the Paris daily newspaper Ce Soir, and became one of the most respected players of correspondence chess in the world. His participation in tournament play slowed dramatically after 1933, though he remained engaged with the professional chess community for the rest his life. He became a valued ambassador for the game through the various honorary positions he maintained, as well as his charitable effort, the Marcel Duchamp Fund of the American Chess Foundation. His legacy also includes playing a pivotal role in introducing the theme of chess in art to a wider public through his involvement in the organization of two historic exhibitions, "The Imagery of Chess" at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1944 and "Hommage a Caissa" at Cordier & Ekstrom in 1966.
The first exhibition dedicated entirely to the artist's extensive association with chess, "Marcel Duchamp: Chess Master" was conceived as an opportunity to experience Duchamp's brilliant and influential career through the lens of his intense involvement with the royal game. Among those works by Duchamp featured in this exhibition are his celebrated readymade Trebuchet [Trap], a coat rack the artist ironically nailed to the floor of his studio in reference to a critical chess position, as well as his portable retrospective museum, La Boite-en-valise [The Box in a Valise], a suitcase filled with miniature reproductions of his most recognizable work. In addition to a career-spanning selection of works by Duchamp, this exhibition also features chess-related items by artists associated with the Dada and Surrealist movements, many of whom shared Duchamp's enthusiasm for the game and its cultural significance. The rare opportunity to see examples of the unique and inventive chess-set designs by Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali together in one exhibition is certain to captivate and delight enthusiasts of both art and chess.
Following its time at Saint Louis University Museum of Art much of the Marcel Duchamp exhibit traveled to New York to Francis Naumann Fine Art Gallery. The following link is a review of the exhibit in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/arts/design/23gall.html?_r=2
The following is a link to Marcel Duchamp The Art of Chess, a book co-written by Bradley Bailey guest curator for the exhibit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/arts/design/23gall.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
This exhibition is sponsored by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and RKL Consulting, LLC.