The recent reprise of "Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess" at Art Basel Miami Beach provided another opportunity to reflect on the hand-painted chess sets of Sophie Matisse (b. 1965) in the context of her step-grandfather Duchamp's lifelong pursuit of the game. Most of the attention paid so far to these gameboards (which have also been exhibited separately) has focused on the way they use fields of pure color to liberate the black-and-white grid of the chess player's universe -- a tactic normally associated with the artist's great-grandfather, Henri Matisse.
For her part, Matisse acknowledges the decorative aspect of her work, but seizes the chance to transcend what Duchamp would have considered mere "retinal" art. Her hope, she says, is to reconcile the ornamental with the conceptual, to create a game that "not only pleases our senses, but also challenges our intellect." While bold, the abstract design never quite overwhelms usability: these objects still support actual play and are sold as both art objects and working boards. (By comparison, Yoko Ono's all-white chessboard, also on display at the Miami Beach show, is beautiful but wholly conceptual: useless for the exercise of chess in itself.)