Saturday 23 April 2011

The Art of Chess :: Your Move

I have come to the conclusion that while all artists are not chess players,

he memorably remarked, “all chess players are artists.”

Marcel Duchamp

Imagine some of the world’s most innovative artists being asked to create a chess set.

The end product is an exhibition called The Art of Chess.

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin Chess Set 2003, hand-painted porcelain, leather, timber. Courtesy of RS&A Ltd, London.

A highlight today was visiting the UQ Art Museum to view two exhibitions of chess inspired works ~ one  was Your Move — Australian Artists Play Chess, and the other is an international touring show called The Art of Chess that included works by two of my favourite artists, Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama.

Extraordinary spotted fungal sculptures by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. [Detail of Pumpkin chess]

Apparently approximately 600 million people worldwide know how to play chess.

Chess is the great and ancient tactical game — a life and death struggle on a board of squares,

between two sets of characters: characters that each have their own special powers and status.

It’s a war-game of immense simplicity and complexity.

Michael Doolan Chess, a cautionary tale 2010 (detail) Polystyrene, polyurethane, earthenware, auto enamel

A chess set has two functions – it’s a great game to test your strategy and your patience,

plus it can also be a work of art you can be proud to leave on display.

Damien Hirst, Mental Escapology 2003

The Art of Chess features innovative and curious chess sets

commissioned from acclaimed international contemporary artists:

Maurizio Cattelan (Italy), Jake and Dinos Chapman (UK), Oliver Clegg (UK), Tracey Emin (UK), Tom Friedman (USA), Paul Fryer (UK), Damien Hirst (UK), Barbara Kruger (USA), Yayoi Kusama (Japan), Paul McCarthy (USA), Alistair Mackie (UK), Mathew Ronay (USA), Tunga (Brazil), Gavin Turk (UK), Rachel Whiteread (UK).

Damien Hirst, Mental Escapology 2003

glass, silver, stainless steel, acrylic, timber and leather. Private collection, London.

Damien Hirst has cast medicine bottles in silver and glass (complete with engraved labels) on a mirrored glass board displaying the biohazard sign. The installation includes the finely crafted set of glass and silver pill bottles with surgical trolley chessboard and two medical stools.

Alastair Mackie Amorphous Organic, 2008

Each chess piece encapsulates a single suspended insect; the “white” pieces are represented by flying insects and the “black” side by ground based insects. The chessboard design a light box set into the surface of the table to illuminate the insects trapped in the clear amber pieces. An evolution from his previous set of dices, which consisted of a set of dice cut from amber with mosquitoes making up each of the die’s digits.

Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled (Good versus Evil), 2003

Hand-painted porcelain, Wenge, American Black Walnut, foam, suede

Based on the concept of good and evil, Italian artist Maurizo Cattelan’s chess pieces are fabricated in porcelain and represent figures that he both admires and despises. The line-up of fictional and real villains and heroes from history include Hitler and Cruella de Ville cast as the King and Queen of evil, and Martin Luther King is Hitler’s equal on the white side. Other notable figures appear as pawns, including Donatella Versace, Rasputin, General Custer, Superman, Mother Teresa, and Sitting Bull.

Barbara Kruger,Untitled 2005, Corian, electronic components, speakers. Courtesy of RS&A Ltd, London and Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York.

In 2001, a newly formed art company called RS&A commissioned five prominent artists, including Damien Hirst and the Chapman brothers, to create bespoke sets that were then exhibited at Somerset House in London two years later. Facing off against the stellar international line-up is Your Move: Australian artists play chess.

Artists featured in Your Move include Benjamin Armstrong, Lionel Bawden, Sebastian Di Mauro, Michael Doolan, Emily Floyd, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, Robert Jacks, Danie Mellor, Kate Rohde, Caroline Rothwell, Sally Smart and Ken Yonetani.

Players in Your Move include human-animal hybrids, literary characters and beer bottles and coasters set up to play on a rickety Australian picnic table. There are chess sets made from exquisite glass and ceramic, sets made from rustic homemade pieces and even a chess set that speaks its mind.

The UQ Art Museum is one of two Australian venues for the travelling exhibition, The Art of Chess from RS&A Ltd, London. The Art of Chess is an ongoing project featuring chess sets designed by some of the world’s leading contemporary artists in a celebration of the game of chess and its continued relevance to the creative arts.

Marcel Duchamp

In 1927, Marcel Duchamp, the French-born trail-blazer of conceptual art, married a young heiress called Lydie Sarazin-Lavassor. The honeymoon did not go well. “Duchamp spent most of the week studying chess problems,” recalled the artist’s close friend Man Ray, “and his bride, in desperate retaliation, got up one night when he was asleep and glued the chess pieces to the board.” Bad move. They were divorced three months later.

Duchamp had played chess since he was a boy, and over time became more and more obsessed by the infinitely intricate permutations of the game. In his thirties, he stunned his friends by announcing that he was giving up his career as an artist to become a full-time chess player. He moved to Buenos Aires, where he frequented local chess clubs and even designed and carved a chess set of his own.


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