Listasafn Islands


Untitled (Good versus Evil)
Pieces: Hand painted porcelain
Board and Box: Wenge and walnut, foam and suede interior
Edition of 7
King: 16 cm; Pawn 11 cm
Box: 30 x 56 x 56 cm

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan (born 1960) is perhaps best known for his mischievous sense of humour, challenging the mores of the art world and public alike. In 1997 he filled the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with stuffed pigeons and in 1999 displayed La Nona Ora at the Kunsthalle in Basel, an installation comprising of a waxwork mannequin of Pope John Paul II being squashed by a meteorite.  Maintaining the provocative power of laughter in his RS&A commission, Cattelan decided to populate his highly figurative chess set with good and bad figures that he both admires and despises. The King on the black side is Adolf Hitler, opposed on the white side by Martin Luther King. Other notable figures appear as Pawns, including Donatella Versace, Rasputin and General Custer (black) and Superman, Mother Teresa and Sitting Bull (white).

Chess Set
Pieces: Hand painted bronze figurines with lead crystal bases and miniature real hair wigs
Board and Box: Ebony and rosewood with inlaid skull and crossbones veneer
Edition of 7
Knight: 22 cm; Pawn: 11 cm
Box: 30 x 79 x 79 cm

British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman (Jake born 1966; Dinos born 1962) started working together in the early 1990s and have become one of the leading art partnerships in the contemporary British art world. Their first body of work was based on a variety of sculptural interpretations of Goya’s The Disasters of War, which they fashioned out of toy soldiers and mutated mannequin parts. Still inspired by Goya, they have recently achieved critical acclaim by produced Fucking Hell, a giant reinterpretation of mass genocide. For the RS&A chess set commission, the Chapman Brothers chose to create a game played by post-apocalyptic adolescents, the one side white with blond-styled haircuts and the other side black with Afro hair. The set is displayed in its own handcrafted wooden games box, the board inlaid with double-headed skull and crossbones.

Nights Move
Wood, leather, resin, paint, felt, glasses, calliper, rulers and magnifying glass.
32 Chess pieces: Tallest 29 cm, smallest 6cm
Desk: 79 x 80 x 159 cm
Chair: 100 x 75 x 80 cm

Oliver Clegg (born 1980) is a rising star of the art world and is more commonly known for his beautiful and powerful paintings on found old art-school drawing boards as well as etchings produced on pages from antique books and old found diaries.  His chess set consists of an exact replica of Sigmund Freud’s desk and chair made in wood and leather – this is the last desk and chair Freud worked from while he lived in London – which is now the Freud Museum - where Oliver Clegg had a solo exhibition.  Inlaid into the surface of the desk is a wooden chequered board made from squares of light and dark wood.  Sitting on the chessboard are 32 chess pieces copied from a relevant selection of Freud’s antiquities – of which he amassed no less than 2000. 16 of these pieces are recreated and painted to resemble the original objects and 16 are replicas made in transparent resin constitute.  The chair is a copy of the original that was custom-made for Freud in the 1920’s as a present from his eldest daughter Mathilde.

Chess Set
Pieces:  Bronze with patina
Board: Quilted cotton fabric and ink
Bag: Fabric with Corian and Silver brooch
Edition of 7
King:  6 cm; Pawn: 2 cm
Board: 45 x 45 x 1 cm
Carrying case: 45 x 45 x 1 cm
Bag: 22 x 24 x 15 cm
Glass and wood display case: 88 x 91.5 x 52 cm

British artist Tracey Emin (born 1963) uses art as a raw form of confession and revelation, always using her own life events as inspiration for work incorporating different media from painting to video and installation to needlework and sculpture.  Emin shows us her lowest and highest moments from her experiences and emotions in candid and, at times, disturbing work.  For her RS&A chess commission Emin has returned to her sewing box and has made the only travelling chess set of the group.  The bronze pieces were modelled in clay with her hands and all over the set are unique mono-prints and hand written texts in ink on the fabric.  The whole set can be packed away into the travelling bag that is decorated with a specially made brooch - a homage to the favourite brooch of Tracey’s.  The set comes with it’s own specially hand crafted vitrine.

Pieces: Mixed media
Table and Board: Maple and American black walnut
Wall mounts: Maple, American black walnut and Perspex
Edition of 7
32 pieces: Tallest: 48 cm; Pawn: 2 mm
Table and Board: 48 x 56 x 36 cm
Wall mounts: 57 x 45 x 9 cm

American artist Tom Friedman (born 1965) has made a name for himself by transforming mundane everyday objects into beautiful and often surreal works of art. His first sculptures were fashioned out of such unlikely items as washing powder and plastic straws while later works have included intricate self-portraits chiselled into the head of an aspirin and giant figures carved out of Styrofoam.  In all cases, his sculpture rethinks the nature of the material that he is working with allowing it to express its inner form. For his RS&A chess commission Friedman continues his interest in mixed media by creating a random mélange of disparate objects, many of which are reminiscent of his larger sculptures. A pawn in the form of a tiny steel ball bearing or miniscule self-portrait carved out of Styrofoam is staged against larger objects such as a modified Crest toothpaste carton and a can of defunct Busch beer. The King on the white side is an exact replica of a previous large-scale work while on the black side it takes the form of a pencil in reverse perspective. When the set is not in use it packs away into a perfect cube, the wall mounts, beer and tree trunk stools fitting snugly underneath the table and then covered by an outer wooden casing which for Friedman represents what he has terms, ‘a metaphor for the mind’.

Chess Set for Tesla
Wood, glass, electric components
Edition of 7
32 pieces: Tallest 15 cm, Smallest 10cm
Box: 17 x 48 x 50 cm

British artist, Paul Fryer (born 1963) is best known for his hyperrealist sculpture and his fascination with science and the cosmos.  Fryer’s chess set is called the Tesla Set in honour of the great and peculiar inventor Nikola Tesla. Some credit Tesla with the invention of the vacuum tube, on which the set is based, although this is an area of some dispute.  Paul decided to honour Tesla for his artistic attributes rather than his scientific achievements, as he liked to play with lightning and high voltage generators and loved spectacle and sensation – Fryer shares these interests and has made extraordinary works that detect atoms in space and sculptures that create lightning.  Tesla was also very interested in transmitting power through open space, which is a central goal in the making of art. The board of the chess set powers the vacuum tube pieces so that when unplugged the individual pieces glow for a little while, struggling to keep connection with the board, and then die.  Plug them back in and they reactivate.

Mental Escapology
Pieces: Cast glass and hallmarked English silver:
Surgical Trolley and Board: Stainless steel, mirrored glass with black enamel silkscreen,
Cabinet: Glass, mirrored glass, coated wood and stainless steel
Chairs: Modified dentist chairs in white leather
Edition of 7
King: 19 cm; Pawn: 5.5 cm
Table/Board: 75.5 x 72 x 72 cm
Cabinet: 65 x 82 x 16 cm
Chairs: 100 x 50 x 60 cm each

British artist Damien Hirst (born 1965) achieved notoriety for his sculptural works incorporating animal parts or whole animals preserved in giant tanks of formaldehyde reflecting the artist’s fascination with the classic themes of life and death.  This predilection for art as life is further reflected in the artists’ interest in medicine cabinets and pill bottles, symbols of the modern world’s obsession with mortality.  For his RS&A commission, Hirst continued with this theme by casting medicine bottles in silver and glass with modified labels on each side. The labels for all pieces are either etched or sand blasted while the board is made from mirrored glass displaying the biohazard sign throughout and placed upon a freestanding surgical trolley with accompanying white leather dentist chairs. The set comes with its own specially designed medicine cabinet in which the pieces can be stored while not playing.

Pieces: Black and red Corian, miniature speakers, electronic and computer components
Board and Box: Corian and electronics and customised metal and carbon fibre flight case with printed exterior and foam interior
Edition of 7
Board and Box: 101.9 x 94.5 x 23 cm 
King: 17.9 cm; Pawn: 7.9 cm

American artist Barbara Kruger (born 1945) is best known for her hard hitting public art interventions that utilise the language and finesse of advertising to question stereotypes relating to gender and race. In the early 1980s she was one of the first artists to use the central digital advertising screen in Times Square, New York to question the escalating arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union and since then her recognisable design aesthetic has been seen all over the world co-opting traditional advertising space such as billboard posters and public transport. A master of manipulation in both image and text, her work always carries a philosophical or political message such as ‘Memory is your image of perfection’ or ‘I shop therefore I am’.  For her RS&A and Luhring Augustine chess commission Kruger has produced a unique audio chess set where each piece on the board is a miniature speaker.  Designed loosely on the famous Bauhaus chess design by Josef Hartwig in red and black Corian, every chess piece contains a series of different audio recordings from classic Kruger questions such as “What time is it?’ and ‘What’s up with your hair?’ to equally provocative Kruger announcements like ‘You feel comfortable losing,’ or ‘You can’t be serious’. When heard together during the course of a game these real voices construct an audio conversational piece that parallels the act of playing chess.

Pumpkin Chess Set
Pieces: Hand painted porcelain,
Board and Box: Hand painted porcelain, leather and wooden pumpkin display case with two leather cushions
Edition of 7
73.5 x 109 cm

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) has pursued her principal themes of infinity, self-image and compulsive repetition ever since the 1950s, when she created her first series of artworks, Infinity Nets, paintings covered in endless net-like patterns.  Both in New York and over the subsequent three decades Kusama has suffered from what she terms “acute obsessional neurosis”, stating, “painting pictures has been therapy for me to overcome my illness”. She paints spots and pumpkins in an effort to control her incessant and reoccurring hallucinations.  For her RS&A chess commission, Kusama designed an organic chess set with hand-painted porcelain pieces and board covered in brightly coloured red and black spots on a white and yellow background. Housed in its own leather pumpkin case, this chess set seems like one of Kusama’s hallucinations made real. 

Kitchen Set
Pieces and board: Found objects and resin casts and wooden flooring
Packaging: Modified kitchen equipment
Edition of 7
King: 39 cm; Pawn: 3 cm
Board: 100 x 100 cm

Los Angeles artist Paul McCarthy (born 1945) is known for his shocking, sexually charged films and installations of the 1970s that often featured the artist dressed as cartoon and pop-culture characters – Olive Oyl and Santa Claus, among others – covered in ketchup and mayonnaise. In recent years McCarthy has developed a dysfunctional aesthetic, based in part on a fascination with the aesthetic excesses of Hollywood and theme parks, that has lead to his creation of giant inflatable Pinocchio sculptures and rubber pirates’ heads.  Himself a keen chess player, McCarthy decided to create a Readymade chess set for his RS&A chess commission. Constructed entirely from random objects chosen from the contents of his kitchen, among them a ketchup bottle and rubber duck, the artist has either recast each piece to look identical to the original found object or located identical items to construct the editions. The board has been fabricated from the artists’ kitchen floor by cutting up sixty-four identical squared segments that are then arranged into a chequered chessboard. By coincidence, this design bares a striking resemblance to Marcel Duchamp’s own wooden chessboard, designed to play games of “mental chess” in 1937.

 ‘Amorphous Organic’
Bog oak, brass, glass, bulbs, battery, copal, insects
32 pieces: Tallest 8.5cm, Smallest 4cm
Board/Table: 73 x 70 x 70cm

Alastair Mackie (born 1977) is fascinated with the intricate details in our natural lives.  His chess set is a logical evolution from a work he made in 2007, a set of dice cut from amber. The surface was set with mosquitoes that make up each of the die's digits.  His chess set was influenced by seeing the amber collection in the Department of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in London.  Each chess piece encapsulates a single suspended insect, perhaps millions of years old. The ‘white’ pieces are represented by flying insects and the ‘black’ side by ground based insects. So, for example, the ‘white’ knight is represented by an exotic wasp and the ‘black’ king, by a scorpion.   The chessboard design takes its reference from a geological sample-viewing table. A light box has been set into the surface of the table to illuminate the insects trapped in the clear amber pieces. Specimen drawers in the side of the table house the pieces out of play. “Perhaps in this case each move, each little death, however small and insignificant in it's own right, has the potential to bring us closer to answering questions to do with the very existence of life on this planet, questions to do our own origins and future.”

Over There in the Bushes
Pieces: Hand painted bronze
Picnic basket: Hand painted bronze
Picnic blanket/board: White leather and printed cotton
Edition of 7
Board: 2 x 138 x 138 cm
Rook: 17.5 cm; Pawn: 1.5 cm

American artist Matthew Ronay’s (born 1976) work is full of playful exuberance and has attracted worldwide international attention. His toy-like miniature sculptures, handcrafted from plastic, wood, metal and painted particleboard often resemble a child’s bedroom gone awry and are usually installed on the floor.  For his RS&A chess commission Ronay has pursued his love of narrative to produce a surreal ‘gay’ picnic with an added twist.  Cast in bronze and then hand painted with cartoon-like simplicity, the pieces range from pink and blue cup cakes as the King and Queen on the white side to two marijuana joints as King and Queen on the black side, one with tobacco as in the European style and the other without. The pawns appear in the guise of pizza slices, one side with pepperoni and the other side in plain cheese. All 32 chessmen are played on a gingham chessboard that doubles up as a picnic blanket complete with bronze picnic basket.

Eye for an Eye
Pieces: Plated bronze with iron stands
Board and Boxes: Mahogany
Edition of 7
Board: 75 x 75 x 7.5 cm
King: 14 cm; Pawn: 14 cm

Brazilian artist Tunga (born 1952) works with a variety of different material from lead to gold, gunpowder to sulphuric acid, yet central to his aesthetic is a focus on female sexuality as well as allusions to ancient rituals of the past. In the mid 1980s he created works in real human hair, such as the performance piece Capillary Siamese Twins that featured an identical pair of 13-year old twins joined together by a floor length mass of tangled blonde hair.  For his RS&A chess commission Tunga returns to his interest in the corporeal body to create a set of bronze chessmen inspired by the artist’s own mouth. There are 32 teeth in the head and 32 chess pieces on a board. By transforming incisors, canines and molars into pawns, bishops and rooks respectively he has created a unique and ingenious take on the game.

The Mechanical Turk
HD film on DVD, wood box with inlay
Edition of 7
Duration: 14 mins

British artist Gavin Turk (born 1967) makes art that investigate what it means to be an artist. He is interested in the way that fame and celebrity affect the understanding of art and has cast himself in several sculptures as life-size romantic heroes such as Jean-Paul Marat, Sid Vicious and Che Guevara.  He borrows from history of art and at the same time references contemporary popular culture, thereby exploring the power of artists to transform 'things', while questioning the uniqueness of the creative process.  For his RS&A chess commission Turk investigates the fascinating historical story of the ‘Mechanical Turk’ – a life sized mechanical figure dressed in Eastern costume that could somehow play chess.  This famous automaton of the 18th Century astounded audiences across Europe and America and is said to have outwitted Napoleon and baffled grand masters.  The film consists of Gavin Turk dressed as ‘the Turk’ in the identical setting as the only etching made in the 18th Century of the ‘Mechanical Turk’.  The film is approximately 14 minutes long and shows Gavin, dressed in Turkish costume complete with Turban, executing the Knight’s Tour with one hand in a mechanical fashion.  This complex move consists of moving the Knight across the board until it has landed on every square.  The film comes with a replica of the box that is behind him within the film.

Modern Chess Set
Pieces: Replicas of artists own dollhouse furniture collection – multi-media.
Board and Box: Chessboard with carpet and linoleum squares, printed wooden games box with instruction manual on paper
Edition of 7
King: 10 cm; Pawn: 1 cm
Box: 24.5 x 75 x 41.5 cm

Since the late 1980s British artist Rachel Whiteread (born 1963) has used resin, rubber and dental plaster to cast often overlooked domestic objects and spaces. Like artists Bruce Nauman and Joseph Beuys before her she presents the casts of the negative spaces defined by an object as the final artwork, rather than replicating the object itself. Her abstract transformation of familiar forms have included over the years, bathtubs, chairs and mattresses, and even an entire house in east London for which she was awarded the Turner Prize in 1993.  For her RS&A and Luhring Augustine chess commission Whiteread returns to a domestic theme but this time concentrates on the duplication of her own dollhouse furniture collection. The final chess set is therefore comprised of identical copies of her original miniature chairs and kitchen units, the two sides creating an opposition between utilities and furnishings. The board compliments this overall aesthetic by being constructed out of carpet and linoleum squares while the box mimics the typography of 1950s modern design.

Printed of the web Reykjvik Art Museum, 05.08.2015