Yesterday, Colin Marshall featured Man Ray’s “Surrealist Chessboard” from 1934, which paid homage to the leaders of the Surrealist movement. Though artistically significant, the chessboard had some practical limitations. Made up of only 20 squares (as compared to the traditional 64), the “Surrealist Chessboard” wouldn’t let you play an actual game of chess.
For that, we need to turn to Man Ray’s chess set fashioned in 1924. Made of abstract geometric forms, this set (on display above, jump to the 3:30 mark to really see it) featured some unconventional chess pieces: the king is a pyramid; the queen, a cone; the castle, a cube; the bishop, a bottle; the knight, the head scroll of a violin; and the pawn, an elegant sphere.
We said you could actually play chess on this board. And indeed you can. In 2012, the Man Ray Trust authorized a new edition of this set, making it available to chess enthusiasts looking for a handsome set. Crafted in Germany, it’s made of solid beech wood.
This chessboard you can obtain.
As for the other modern chessboard Man Ray designed in 1945, it may be out of your league. David Bowie owned one of the few existing copies of that 1945 board, and, earlier this month, it sold for $1.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London.
For more information on Man Ray’s chessboards, read this short article from Chess Collectors International (see page 18). Or see The Imagery of Chess Revisited, which covers Man Ray’s boards and beyond.
If you’d like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.