[Francis Naumann]
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Marcel Duchamp The Art of Chess
Photo of Marcel Duchamp playing chess

Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess” is the first exhibition devoted to exploring the influence of Duchamp’s activities as a chess player on his artistic production. It debuted at the St. Louis University Museum of Art (May 6 – August 16, 2009), and the present gallery exhibition is an expanded version of that show.  It will open at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art on September 10, 2009 (and run through October 31, 2009).

The exhibition features the magnificent early cubist drawing Study for Portrait of Chess Players (1911), which renders Duchamp’s two brothers—Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon—intently engaged in a game of chess; a large central “X” in the center of the composition represents the precise point where their minds meet, a cerebral focus common to much of Duchamp’s subsequent production. Among the highlights of the show will be an example of the readymade Trébuchet (1917/64), the coat rack that visitors to Duchamp’s studio were expected to trip over (the chess equivalent of a gambit offered in the opening of a game); the Nice chess poster (1925); regular and deluxe examples of his book on endgame strategy (1932); the Pocket Chess Set (1943); and Cupid (1943), a recently discovered original drawing for the announcement of a show at the Julien Levy Gallery (in which Duchamp seems to have embedded a hidden message).  A number of photographs of Duchamp either playing chess or seated before a chessboard will also be displayed.  A signed, limited edition photograph by Arnold Rosenberg of Marcel Duchamp moving chess pieces behind glass (1958) was issued to commemorate this exhibition.

Also included in the show will be works by a number of Duchamp’s contemporaries—Man Ray, Georges de Zayas, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Leon Kelly, Beatrice Wood, Arman and Sarah Austin—that relate to Duchamp’s involvement with the game of chess, as well as a selection of works by contemporary artists—Charles Juhàsz Alvardo, Mike Bidlo, Donald Bradford, Russell Connor, Ingrid Evans, Mark Kostabi, Sophie Matisse, Daniel Meirom, James Meyer, Trong Gia Nguyen, Yoko Ono, Jennifer Shahade, Diana Thater, Douglas Vogel—some of whom have made works specially for inclusion in this show. 

Accompanying the exhibition will be Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess, a book featuring essays by Francis M. Naumann and Bradley Bailey, both of which demonstrate that Duchamp’s identity as a chess player is so thoroughly interfused with his work as an artist that the two activities are aesthetically and conceptually inseparable. The book also includes the analyses of fifteen Duchamp games by Jennifer Shahade (two-time American Women’s Chess Champion). These games will be reenacted in the exhibition on a video monitor, on which visitors will be able to view the movement of the pieces, all laid out in the format of Duchamp’s Pocket Chess Set of 1943.

Photo of Marcel Duchamp with chessboard
Installation Images
The New York Times Art in Review Friday October 23, 2009
Artseen November 2009