Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Man Ray | Chess set

Man Ray
Chess set
Paris, France: Self-published, 1947
piece heights vary from 4.7 to 3.2 cm.
Edition size unknown

Like virtually all artist-designed chess set, this work owes a debt to Marcel Duchamp. The game became the central pursuit for the artist in the second half of his life, to the exclusion of most other activities, so much to the consternation of his first wife that she reportedly once glued his chess pieces to his chessboard. 

"I am still a victim of chess," he stated, "It has all the beauty of art—and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position... I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists."

Duchamp and Man Ray played together frequently, and can briefly be seen doing so in René Clair's short 1924 film Entr'acte. 

In his 1963 autobiography Self-Portrait, Man Ray wrote:

"Chess occupied [Duchamp] more and more; he spent much time studying the game and frequenting the chess world. I remained a third-rate player – a wood pusher, as he said: my interest was directed towards designing new forms for chess pieces, of not much interest to players but to me a fertile field for invention."

Man Ray created his first chess set in 1920, in New York and over the following decades developed several different sets increasingly abstract, geometric designs. 

This copy is signed, dated and stamped with 'MAN RAY 1947 R' on the top of the gold king and stamped with the initial 'R' on the top of the red king. Conceived in wood in 1920 this version executed in 1947 in anodized aluminum. 

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