The chess board perimeter inlaid with the artist's facsimile handwriting:
le Roi est à moi
le Reine est la Tienne
la Tour Fait un four
le Fou est comme vous
le Cavalier déraille
le Pion fait l'espion
comme toute canaille
Fait de toutes pièces
Man Ray - 1962
T hough, at his own admission, not the most skilled of players, referring to himself once as a "wood pusher", Man Ray was long enchanted by the game of chess, which proved to be both inspirational as well as a pastime: a game he so often played with his friend Marcel Duchamp but which, more importantly, was frequently incorporated as motif and subject into his artistic output. Man Ray created his first chess set in 1920 in New York and continued to develop and evolve his designs over the ensuing fifty years with extraordinary verve and imagination. Roland Penrose observed, "for Duchamp, the interest [of the game] lay in ingenious solutions to the end-game; Man Ray used even greater ingenuity in designing chess-sets" (Roland Penrose, Man Ray, London, 1975, p. 173).
Chessmen are representations of entities or characters, essentially composed of geometric forms and Man Ray was at liberty to redesign and modify their forms from classical chessmen. When placed on the checkered board, their stage or battleground, and set into play, they are forced into a dialogue with one another, suggestive of fortuitous encounters, taking on new roles, pre-determined by the rules, permission and limitations of the game. A consuming investigation of the animate and the inanimate is set into motion and Man Ray breathes further life into these human representations.
The present work, a fully-fashioned chess set complete with its playing board and storage compartments for the chessman, was produced in an edition of fifty examples plus five artist's proofs in 1962. Chess sets from this edition are the most elaborate of all Man Ray's chess sets since he designed it to be displayed and played.
Man Ray chess sets, manipulated and nurtured over the course of his career, reflect Man Ray’s "dazzling multiplicity of talents" (Merry Foresta et al, Perpetual motif: The Art of Man Ray, 1988, Washington, D.C.. p. 9). Chess Set (1962) illustrates Man Ray’s extraordinary dexterity in his multi-disciplinary approach and his desire to innovate and accomplish – much like the subterfuge of a game of chess.
Man Ray and Duchamp playing Chess in the dada short film Entr'acte by René Clair