The history of chess goes deep into many centuries. A strict discipline of the game, subject to precise rules that require maximum concentration, has always been the subject of particular attention of the artists. An intellectual potential, a variety of possible combinations and an endless field for creative imagination have united the visual art and the art of the chess game.
The theme of chess was often called on by the founder of conceptualism, Marcel Duchamp. In 1924, a chess set inspired by the Bauhaus tradition was created by Josef Hartwig. One of the most prominent artistic projects involving the art of chess was realized in 1944-45 and included the works of the leaders of actual art of that time – Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Alexander Calder. Their chess sets, featured in the “Image of Chess” exhibition at New York’s Julien Levy Gallery, reflected the latest trends of the avant-garde, from constructivism to surrealism movements.
The new Art of Chess project features the works of such contemporary art leaders as Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, Paul McCarthy, the Chapman Brothers, Yayoi Kusama, Matthew Ronay, Tom Friedman, Tunga, Barbara Kruger, and Rachel Whiteread. Inspired by the idea of the game, each artist created objects that reflected their unique author’s style and particular vision of the subject matter.
Rachel Whiteread, for example, has embodied her famous love for dollhouse layouts in the Modern Chess set. The set consists of accurately modeled dollhouse furniture elements packed in a custom-made play box. The board echoes the overall design with squares of linoleum and carpeting.
Tom Friedman’s chess set reflects artist’s distinctive style by presenting a mini-retrospective of his most celebrated works, including the rook made out of a Crest toothpaste box, the miniature self-portrait carved out of Styrofoam, and a plastic cup made of plasticine and filled with gravel. The board itself has the shape of a wooden table complemented by two sawn tree trunks in place of seats.
The chess figures in Barbara Kruger’s work are equipped with mini speakers. As the figures move, the random questions or answers resound – recreating an endless variation for a possible dialogue between two players.
Brazilian artist Tunga, in designing his Eye for an Eye set, literally delved into the study of the psychology and structure of the human body. Observing the numerical similarity between the chess figures and the number of a man’s teeth, Tunga recreated a set of bronze figures in the shape of the human’s teeth, each of which has its own role in the chess game.
The “Art of Chess” exhibition demonstrates that in the 21st century, the Chess game is still able to fascinate and inspire artists of all kinds, remaining an excellent means of creativity and figurative expression.