Playing with Chance: Duchamp, Chess and Roulette
By Liam Otten
posted: 10-20-09

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Marcel Duchamp was among the most influential artists of the 20th century. He was also a dedicated chess player who saw strong correlations between his art and the game, famously remarking to the New York State Chess Association that, "I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists."

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis will present "Playing with Chance: Duchamp, Chess and Roulette."

The event — held in conjunction with the exhibition Chance Aesthetics — will begin with a live game combining roulette and chess played in the museum's atrium by the newly crowned 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Champion as well as a special guest. Immediately following the match, at 7 p.m., will be a gallery talk about Duchamp's work by Bradley Bailey, assistant professor of art history at Saint Louis University.

Bailey recently co-authored — with Jennifer Shahade, the 2002 and 2004 U.S. Women's Chess Champion, and independent scholar Francis Naumann — Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess (2009), the first English-language study exploring the links between Duchamp's art and chess activities. He also curated the exhibition Marcel Duchamp: Chess Master, on view last summer at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art.

For the Oct. 14 match, the players will employ a specially designed roulette wheel to determine their moves — thus combining the ultimate game of strategy with the ultimate game of chance. "The game features a merging of roulette and chess that I created with curator Larry List," explains Shahade, who will be in attendance. "The idea was inspired by roulette- and chess-crazed Duchamp's wish that somehow chess and gambling could meet in the middle."

The 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship, which began Oct. 3 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, 4657 Maryland Ave., includes 10 of the nation's elite players. The final round of play will take place Oct. 13, with the winner crowned that evening. For more information visit

Chance Aesthetics, on view at the Kemper Art Museum though Jan. 4, 2010, features more than 60 artworks by more than 40 avant-garde artists — including Duchamp — from Europe and the United States. Organized by Meredith Malone, the museum's assistant curator, the exhibition investigates the use of chance and randomness as key compositional principles in modern art.

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