Man Ray Creates a “Surrealist Chessboard,” Featuring Portraits of Surrealist Icons: Dalí, Breton, Picasso, Magritte, Miró & Others (1934)


Like most artists, Emmanuel Rad­nitzky had more than one major inter­est in his life. We who know him as Man Ray usu­al­ly first encounter him through his pho­tog­ra­phy, such as the artist and writer por­traits fea­tured here at Open Cul­ture last year. But Man Ray him­self ulti­mate­ly con­sid­ered paint­ing his main cre­ative field. And, apart from his work, he had chess–or at least his friend and fel­low con­cep­tu­al artist Mar­cel Duchamp had chess. Duchamp seems to have turned Man Ray on to it as well, and they even appear play­ing togeth­er in Rene Clair’s 1924 film Entr’acte.

Ducham­p’s pas­sion for chess ran deep enough that, for a time, he all but aban­doned art to devote him­self to the game. Lat­er he came to the real­iza­tion that “chess was art; art was chess,” hav­ing pur­sued both of those inter­ests at once in the cre­ation of an art deco chess­board. Man Ray, for his part, brought art and chess togeth­er in 1934’s Sur­re­al­ist Chess­board, a mosa­ic of his por­traits of artists asso­ci­at­ed with the Sur­re­al­ist move­ment, includ­ing Sal­vador Dalí, Andre Bre­ton, Pablo Picas­so, René Magritte, Joan Miró, and of course him­self — but with the chess-lov­ing Duchamp nowhere to be seen.

“Sur­re­al­ist exhi­bi­tion group pho­tographs include the fre­quent par­tic­i­pa­tion of Man Ray but rarely Duchamp,” writes Lewis Kachur in aka Mar­cel Duchamp: Med­i­ta­tions on the Iden­ti­ties of an Artist, his non-appear­ance on the Sur­re­al­ist Chess­board being the “most aston­ish­ing” exam­ple. “The struc­ture is the demo­c­ra­t­ic grid for­mat of the chess­board, with each of twen­ty sur­re­al­ists or fel­low trav­el­ers as a head shot against a black or light-col­ored back­ground, alter­nat­ing to sug­gest the black and white squares of the board. Man Ray had a neg­a­tive of an appro­pri­ate pro­file bust of Duchamp (1930), strik­ing for its absence here.”

Kachur imag­ines that Duchamp “chose not to take part,” in keep­ing with his “some­what shad­owy” posi­tion in rela­tion to the Sur­re­al­ists, “on the mar­gins of the move­ment group’s iden­ti­ty.” Or he may sim­ply have want­ed to save his friend the trou­ble of fig­ur­ing out a shape in which to arrange 21 por­traits instead of 20. What­ev­er Duchamp thought of this project that used the chess­board only as visu­al struc­ture, he prob­a­bly pre­ferred the chess set Man Ray designed a decade ear­li­er using his­tor­i­cal­ly inspired pure geo­met­ric forms — and one that he could actu­al­ly play chess with. You can still pur­chase own copy of that chess set today.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Man Ray Designs a Supreme­ly Ele­gant, Geo­met­ric Chess Set in 1920 (and It’s Now Re-Issued for the Rest of Us)

Man Ray’s Por­traits of Ernest Hem­ing­way, Ezra Pound, Mar­cel Duchamp & Many Oth­er 1920s Icons

Man Ray and the Ciné­ma Pur: Four Sur­re­al­ist Films From the 1920s

Watch Dreams That Mon­ey Can Buy, a Sur­re­al­ist Film by Man Ray, Mar­cel Duchamp, Alexan­der Calder, Fer­nand Léger & Hans Richter

Mar­cel Duchamp, Chess Enthu­si­ast, Cre­at­ed an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Avail­able via 3D Print­er

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.