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Marcel Duchamp
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Photog to the stars Richard Avedon captures Duchamp as he wipes away eye boogers.

Just kidding, it’s a normal enigmatic photo. In this portrait, the readymade king is awkwardly covering his face with his hands in a way that makes him look like a 1950s film noir villain, which isn’t a far off comparison considering he was hiding a body at the time. More precisely, he was hiding Étant donnés, his super creepy final work of a nude and possibly dead woman revealed after his death. At the time this photo was taken, Duchamp had supposedly given up making art for good, and was spending his free time focusing on the love of his life: chess. Wait, what?

Yes, Marcel Duchamp was a chess fanatic, and no mere wood pusher (I know it sounds dirty, get your mind out of the gutter). Duchamp had been playing chess since childhood and became a player of “master strength," whooping all kinds of ass in tournaments and chess Olympiads against world renowned players throughout his life. He even won a match or two against George Koltanowski, a guy who had once played chess blindfolded against seven players at once!

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Duchamp was obsessed with chess, and probably gave each of his pieces names: after all, he did craft his own chess set. He, perhaps unsurprisingly, loved the conceptual nature and pointlessness of chess, and even had a giant chessboard on the wall of his studio for studying chess positions. He would practice every night, staying up late and sleeping in the next morning like a college student finishing a paper at the last minute. This was much to the dismay to his wife, who got so frustrated with him that she glued his pieces to the board.

In the end, was Duchamp a brilliant artist who played chess, or a brilliant chess player who made art on the side? Maybe quitting art to play chess was his true final artwork, not the creepy female torso sprawled out in the grass holding a gas lamp. I think we’ll go with that.

Sources

Sources

  1. Castle, Jack. “‘Finding the right move’: Marcel Duchamp and his passion for chess,” Christie’s, May 3, 2016, Accessed July 2018, https://www.christies.com/features/Marcel-Duchamp-his-pipe-and-his-passi...
  2. “Marcel Duchamp,” Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Accessed July, 2018, http://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.98.58
  3. “Marcel Duchamp Étant donnés,” Philadelphia Museum of Art, Accessed July 2018, https://www.philamuseum.org/publications/0-1-31028.html
  4. McClain, Loeb Dylan. “Duchamp as a Chess Player,” The New York Times, Oct 11, 2009, Accessed July 2018, https://gambit.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/duchamp-and-chess/