Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
On March 5, 1968 in Toronto, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage played a game of musical chess. Titled “Reunion,” the event drew an audience of hundreds to the Ryerson Theatre, where the two creative giants would activate a unique auditory experience through a specially constructed chess board that triggered different electronic compositions with each individual move.
By the 1960s, Duchamp was known as a premier chess player. His brothers had taught him to play the game when he was a teenager, and he’d been improving by leaps and bounds ever since. In 1931, Duchamp served as a French delegate to the World Chess Federation, and in 1933, he played in the Chess Olympiad on the same team with Alexander Alekhine, the reigning world champion.
When Cage first met Duchamp in the 1940s, he was immediately enamored of the older artist, and by several accounts Cage eventually asked Duchamp to teach him to play chess merely as an excuse to spend time with him. After many nights of lessons at Duchamp’s New York apartment, it was Cage’s idea to play a public game of musical chess.
Cage asked Lowell Cross to create a specialized chess board for the occasion. At the time, Cross was a graduate student and research associate in the Electronic Music Studios at the University of Toronto. (He would later go on to invent the laser light show.) In an article celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Reunion,” Cross describes how his chess board functioned through the covering and uncovering of 64 photoresistors, which connected to four “sound-generating systems,” each activating a different composition by Gordon Mumma, David Behrman, David Tudor, and Cross himself. Internal microphones under the table amplified the sounds of the “thunks” of pieces moving across the board, while “oscilloscopic images emanated from modified monochrome and color television screens, which provided visual monitoring of some of the sound events passing through the chessboard.”
Cross called the event “a performance in which games of chess determined the form and acoustical ambience of a musical event.” Unfortunately — or more so predictably, let’s be honest — Duchamp beat Cage in less than 30 minutes, even with the handicap of Duchamp playing with just one knight. The rest of the evening consisted of a more even matchup of Cage and Duchamp’s wife, Teeny, while the chess master sat at the table observing. That game lasted until 1 am, at which point Duchamp memorized the location of the pieces and everyone left. (By that time, the audience had dwindled to less than 10 people.) They’d finish the game a few days later. Teeny won.
Although the press was completely bored by “Reunion,” it went down in history as a unique experiment in creating art and music simultaneously through a random assortment of both strategy and chance. As Duchamp once said: “While all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”
Lowell notes that there is no record of the moves played in either of the games as a part of “Reunion.” Nor has there surfaced any video recording of the event. What remains are photographs and an audio recording — a copy of which is currently available from Alpha 137 gallery for $7,500 — together with re-imaginings and homages galore.
“Reunion” turned out to be Duchamp’s last public appearance; he died later that year of heart failure at the age of 81.
The University of Virginia researchers wrote that the data “provides compelling evidence that these symbols are associated with hate.”
We are waiting for spectacle and when the quotidian, yet incongruous actions occur I wonder whether there is any real payoff coming.
Hear from Holly Jean Buck, Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas, Simon Denny, Elizabeth Hoover, Renee Kemp-Rotan, Joseph Kunkel, and more at this free public event.
Tanega’s approach to mark-making comes across as stream of consciousness, as if she’s engaged in a conversation with herself.
Starting Monday, readers can borrow one of 50 rare and out-of-print titles, mailed to them completely free of charge, from Saint Heron Library.
EFA Open Studios offers a portal into the creative habitats of over 65 artists working in Manhattan’s longest-running studio program, including Dannielle Tegeder, Wafaa Bilal, Cui Fei, and Anina Major.
This is Yuskavage’s great gift, turning upside down our settled ways of thinking and seeing and, with ease, transforming the vulgar and ridiculous into the sublime.
51 international publishers and galleries showcase their latest editions in prints and artists’ books at this free public fair, which is fully online this year.
While hardly about the pandemic, or any of the other crises so afflicting us, all are invoked in this exhibition, which is also often tender and profoundly soulful.
These glowing, dynamic artworks reproduce something of Bosch’s chaotic energy, but on an immersive, multi-sensory scale.
This week, addressing a transphobic comedy special on Netflix, the story behind KKK hoods, cultural identity fraud, an anti-Semitic take on modern art, and more.