The Art of Chess, Saatchi Gallery & RS&A, London

The game of Chess is believed to have originated in India in the seventh century and no other game in history has been so widely reflected in art and literature. Chess remains an intriguing and complex subject for contemporary artists. The Art of Chess brings together 16 chess sets designed by some of the world’s leading contemporary artists who have chosen to create outstanding works of art, each infused with their individual style, in celebration of the ‘game of kings’ and its continued relevance to the creative arts.

These specially commissioned chess sets have been created by: Maurizio Cattelan, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Oliver Clegg, Tracey Emin, Tom Friedman, Paul Fryer, Damien Hirst, Barbara Kruger, Yayoi Kusama, Paul McCarthy, Alastair Mackie, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Matthew Ronay,Tunga, Gavin Turk and Rachel Whiteread. Each set is individually crafted in a wide variety of different materials including wood, porcelain, glass, amber and silver.

This exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery will be the first time that all 16 chess sets are displayed together and it will also be the first public showing of a new commission by British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Famous for their shadow sculptures, the artists have taken the opportunity to return to their on-going fascination with dead animals and have created a woodland chess set complete with hand carved tree.

Rachel Whiteread pursued her love of dollhouses when creating her game from miniature furniture. Tom Friedman’s chess set is equally intricate and playful, presenting a mini-retrospective of the artist’s best-known works. Barbara Kruger has created the first ever talking chess set with each piece specially programmed to either ask a question or make a statement when moved. The set by Damien Hirst has glass and silver casts of medicine bottles that act as chess pieces, while the American artist Paul McCarthy, a keen chess player, has made his set from random objects found in his own kitchen such as a coffee grinder and a ketchup bottle serving as Rooks.

This unique exhibition presented by Saatchi Gallery and RS&A demonstrates that the game has lost none of its inspirational power in the 21st century and continues to provide an intriguing starting point for artistic expression centuries after the game was invented.

The Art of Chess, 8th September until 3rd October, Saatchi Gallery, Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY.


1. Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Deadalive, Photography by Norbert Schoerner, Courtesy RS&A
2. Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin Chess (detail), 2003, © Yayoi Kusama, 2003, Courtesy RS&A
3. Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin Chess, 2003, © Yayoi Kusama, 2003, Courtesy RS&A