Saturday, December 5, 2009

Marcel Duchamp ~ Boite-en-valise (the red box), series F, seeking chess & John Cage

Marcel Duchamp has made previous appearances here at Fifty Two Pieces. Several weeks ago, I posted two of Florine Stettheimer's portraits of Duchamp. One included reference to his penchant for chess and the other what I see as a saint-like portrayal. It turns out in reading up on Duchamp this week that his brother taught him to play the game when he was eleven and living in France. Chess continued to be part of the rest of his life – so much so that in 1923 he reportedly gave up art to become a chess master and win the French Chess Championship - he did win a number of tournaments, just not that one. Although he didn't stop making art, chess did dominate his life between the years of 1923 and 1933. In an effort to bring about wider appreciation of the game, he curated a number of art shows dedicated to chess, included chess in his art and even made a chess board.

It's been said there are no coincidences in life. Recently I listened to an NPR podcast of Terry Gross interviewing John Cage. Who does Cage mention during the course of 20 minutes – none other than Marcel Duchamp. Cage and Duchamp were friends and chess was a focus of many of their visits. Many times Cage only played with Duchamp's wife Teeny because he, Cage, played so poorly. Cage recounts that sometimes Duchamp would nap while watching the two play. Other times he would be exasperated with Cage and his game. When Duchamp did agree to play, he would spot Cage a Knight (nice). In any case, Duchamp agreed to meet Cage for a performance of Reunion in Toronto in 1968. The two men played chess on a glass board with special sound hookups. The idea of the composition was to "bring together many sound systems, each activated by a different composer, like a coming together of people (Reunion)." Performed once, it was photographed by Shigeko Kubota who later issued a video with sound and her photographs of the event.

Since chess was such a major portion of Duchamp's life, I'm heading to the museum to see if there are any chess images visible in the Boite-en-valise as it's currently displayed at the Portland Art Museum.

And to end this post, here's my current favorite image of Duchamp.

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