Article by Larry List


Artists of all eras and cultures have been interested in chess, “the Royal Game” of rulers, soldiers, prisoners, and exiles. From the early 20th century to the present this interest has paralleled major social (re)evolutions, with artists increasingly using chess imagery and ideas in their art. During such times, chess has provided a universally acknowledged societal model in miniature, that artists re-design based on patterns of love, war, and play.

Sigmund Freud viewed chess as parallel to psychoanalysis – a mapping of the mind - while French-born Marcel Duchamp saw chess as art. In 1944, art theorist Andre Breton insisted that “…what must be changed is the game, itself, not the pieces.” The Fluxus artists of the 1960’s made a grand game-of-making-the-game and transformed chess into a sensory questioning of identities.

In this exhibition, prominent contemporary artists Fryer, Kruger and Turk push the boundaries of interactivity while Kusama, Tunga, Clegg, the Chapman brothers and Cattelan explore mental states, real or imagined. Emin and Ronay transmute chess courtship rituals into heated intimacies and through serious or nonsensical creative play Mackie, Hirst, Whiteread, Friedman and McCarthy each reconstruct a new identity based on the game via the deconstruction of a chosen environment.  

Marcel Proust once explained that what is needed is not a new landscape, but, rather, a new vision. These leading contemporary artists offer new viewpoints from which to reconsider the creative social landscape through chess, while the timeless conceptual landscape of “the Royal Game” stands ever-ready to lend itself to future visions.
The exhibition is co-curated by Larry List, Mark Sanders and Julia Royse for the Reykjavik Art Museum.



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