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John Cage . Chess Pieces (visual artwork 1944 / manuscripts 1943)

“This composition was originally conceived as an ink-and-gouache on masonite painting, created specifically for The Imagery of Chess exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City (1944-45), an exhibition that was comprised of works that were in some manner related to Marcel Duchamp’s interest in chess. In 2005, the original painting resurfaced, and, in working to realize it as a musical composition, Margaret Leng Tan discovered it to be a coherent composition – a through-composed score, consisting of 22 systems of music read conventionally from left to right. Each system is a self-contained musical unit of 12 bars, translating collectively into 22 modular segments. Leng Tan subsequently recorded the work, and thus it was both exhibited and heard within the context of an exhibition entitled The Imagery of Chess Revisited at The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York (21 October 2005 – 16 April 2006). The original score, as visual artwork, remains in a private collection in Chicago; the transcription for solo piano is available from C.F. Peters (EP68110).”

John Cage Trust


cri_000000229287Max Ernst . The King Playing with the Queen (original 1944 / cast 1954)

“In this sculpture, a horned king towers over a conical queen and a sextet of infantry. Ernst first displayed the plaster version of this sculpture in The Imagery of Chess, a 1944 exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. The conflict and hierarchy inherent to chess may have served as an allegory for World War II, which had driven Ernst into exile in the United States. Or, as Ernst’s wife, the artist Dorothea Tanning, later wrote, a hypothetical king and queen playing a game involving kings and queens – there is no end to the interpretations that could be put upon such a situation.

Museum of Modern Art


2007-7-1(1--31)-pmaJulien Levy . Chess Set: Board and Thirty Pieces (1944)

“Art dealer Julien Levy made the plaster prototypes for this chess set in the garage studio of a house on Long Island that he and his wife shared with artists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning during the summer of 1944. The round-bottomed pieces – formed using discarded shells from soft-boiled eggs as molds and stored in an egg carton – were intended to nestle comfortably in the sand of the nearby beach. For use off the beach, Levy made a plaster chessboard, basing its overall size and thickness on Alberto Giacometti’s 1932 marble sculpture On ne joue plus (No More Bets). He inserted seashells into the wet plaster to accommodate the shape of the pieces and to reference the set’s original function. These oak chess pieces, which are based on the original plaster prototypes, were likely made by a local carpenter. Levy was inspired by the experience of designing and making this chess set to commission thirty-two artists (the number of chess pieces in a set) to invent their own chess pieces and boards for an exhibition at his Manhattan gallery. This show, called The Imagery of Chess, opened on December 12, 1944.”

Philadelphia Museum of Art


2001-62-1504-pmaFotografia por International News Photos (Nova Iorque, 1945)

“At The Imagery of Chess Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning play with a Max Ernst chess set on an unidentified table. Near the window, Muriel Streeter (Levy) plays Julien Levy with the Josef Hartwig 1923 Bauhaus Chess Set.  Between them hangs a Xenia Cage mobile. On the wall a small unidentified painting hangs above Marcel Duchamp’s Pocket Chess Set with Rubber Glove. On the pedestal below it sit two unidentified sculptores, possibly by Ossip Zadkine. On the wall above Dorothea Tanning is Leon Kelly’s The Plateau of Chess.”

Philadelphia Museum of Art


levy-chess-tournament-1Fotografia por Julien Levy / Colagem por Dorothea Tanning (Nova Iorque, 1945)

“There, one evening (January 5, 1945), in the Julien Levy Gallery a small invited public watched seven chessboards manned by seven intrepid players: Julien himself; Frederick Kiesler, avant-garde architect and dreamer; Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art; Xanti Schawinsky, chess whiz; Vittorio Rieti, composer dear to Balanchine; Max Ernst; and me, Dorothea, all of us braced to take on blindfolded chess master George Koltanowski. Marcel Duchamp called out the moves. (For the record: everyone lost except Kiesler, who managed a draw.)”

Dorothea Tanning in Between Lives: An Artist and Her World (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001)


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Exhibition Announcement . The Imagery Of Chess (1944)

“The standard chess sets now in use, the FRENCH Set and the STAUNTON, are both somewhat confusing in the similarity and intricacy of their forms. In the French Set for example, the Bishop is a little Queen and the pawn a little Bishop. Cannot a new set be designed, that is, without a too radical departure from the traditional figures, at once more harmonious and more agreeable to the touch and to the sight, and above all, more adequate to the role the figure has to play in the struggle? Thus, at any moment of the drama its optical aspect would represent (by the shape of the actors) a clear incisive image of its inner conflicts. In the complicated modern game the figures should inspire the player instead of confusing him. They should whisper to him at the right moment: Move now to QB4….Break through the center….Pin the Knight….Let me win a piece….We can exchange Queens, the pawn will be metamorphosed into a new Queen….to mate the King.

they should never make a

On Designing Chessmen, texto inserido na brochura da exposição The Imagery of Chess, realizada na Julien Levy Gallery  (Nova Iorque) entre 12 de Dezembro de 1944 e 31 de Janeiro de 1945.


Chess is a marvelous piece of Cartesianism, and so imaginative that it doesn’t even look Cartesian at first. The beautiful combinations that chess players invent – you don’t see them coming, but afterward there is no mystery – it’s a pure logical conclusion.

Marcel Duchamp