One of the factors that may have contributed to Man Ray’s close friendship with Marcel Duchamp was a shared love of the game of chess, which both artists appreciated for its emphasis on abstract, unseen mental processes. The duo famously played chess on the roof of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris for a scene in René Clair’s 1924 film, Entr’acte.
While several of Man Ray’s chess-set designs were put into production—in editions of two to 50 with proceeds from their sale benefiting the American Chess Foundation—the one on offer at Villa Grisebach in Berlin on November 30 is unique, having been crafted in 1964 for his wife, Juliet.
According to the lot notes, “In the present set, the cone-shaped king and queen are each topped with a sphere. Small notches around the top of the otherwise unbroken cylindrical rook suggest castle ramparts. The clean, curved square form of the knight is punctured by a perfect circular hole, and the bishop’s smooth shape is notched; spheres represent the pawns. These smooth forms are reminiscent of sculptures by his friend Brancusi.”
The set’s 32 ivory pieces—half of which have been dyed red—come in a felt-lined wooden case and carry an estimate of $58,900 to $82,400.