“The Art of Chess” at London’s Saatchi Gallery


Top: Damien Hirst’s Mental Escapology, 2003. Bottom: Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin Chess, 2003.


The game of chess has always fascinated the world’s intellectuals, artist Marcel Duchamp among them. In 1944, he curated a show for the New York gallerist Julian Levy, “The Imagery of Chess,” incorporating pieces by such giants as Alexander Calder, André Breton and Man Ray (as well as a musical piece by John Cage). Now, London’s Saatchi Gallery is showing an homage of sorts to that show with “The Art of Chess,” featuring boards and pieces created by 16 artists including Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama and Maurizio Cattelan. (In fact, this show itself is an outgrowth of a project begun 10 years ago by the arts organization RS&A, who commissioned the abovementioned artists to fashion whimsical versions of the game. RS&A and Hugo Boss are co-sponsors of this exhibition.) Crafted from unconventional items such as tree stumps and household findings, the pieces display not only the complexity and creativity of chess but also reference its place in the art world. More recent contributors have included Barbara Kruger, Gavin Turk, Sue Webster and Tim Noble. This delightful and puzzling show runs through early October.


Clockwise from top left: Tim Noble and Sue Webster with their Deadlive, 2003. Photo by Norbert Schoerner; Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Do You Feel Comfortable Losing?), 2006; Matthew Ronay’s Over There in the Bushes, 2005; Rachel Whiteread’s Modern Chess Set, 2005.


Alastair Macklie’s Amorphous Organic, 2008. Photos by Tessa Agnus.