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The Art of Chess Exhibition, Gilbert Collection, 28 June to 30 November 2003

Last Edited: Tuesday September 2, 2003 8:58 AM

Howell Beats Speelman
Howell vs KaryakinThe Art of Chess Exhibition
Howell vs Karyakin

David Howell, left, agrees a draw with Sergey Karyakin at Somerset HouseTo kick off the Gilbert Collection's Art of Chess exhibition, an open-air match on a giant-sized chessboard in the courtyard of Somerset House was played on 28 June, featuring 13-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster Sergey Karyakin, and the 12-year-old English FIDE Master and young player of the year, David Howell, from Seaford. Among the distinguished guests were Lord Jacob Rothschild and FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (see picture, below right). The exhibition runs from 28 June to 30 November 2003.

The game, played at a rate of 15 minutes each, ended in a draw.

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Mike Basman reports: "David Howell made another giant step in his chess career when he comfortably held Sergey Karyakin, the youngest Grandmaster in the world, to a draw in an exhibition match held at Somerset House to launch the Art of Chess Exhibition as part of the Gilbert Collection."

David Howell thinks as Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, dark suit, and Lord Rothschild, right, look on"The match was played on 28 June 2003 on a magnificent summer day in the open air courtyard at Somerset House, which is just off the Strand in London, next to Waterloo Bridge. David, the 12-year-old prodigy from Sussex, had already established his credentials earlier in the week by disposing of Grandmaster Jonathan Speelman in a match sponsored by British Land at Regents Place in Euston, also played on a giant chess set. Karyakin, who has been tipped by many (including himself!) as a future World Champion, drew the black pieces, and the game began with the spectators crowded round four or five deep, trying to get a glimpse of the moves. On the edges of the courtyard two large demonstration boards had been erected and Grandmasters Jonathan Levitt and Daniel King were keeping the spectators informed on the game as it progressed. "

"David, who had been coached prior to the match by Grandmaster Levitt, had prepared well and chose a variation which allowed Karyakin little opportunity to exercise his natural combinative flair. After several moves of mutual probing, David had negated all of Karyakin’s counter play and the latter was forced to take up a defensive posture. As the pressure increased, Karyakin attempted to break out and managed to exchange queens into an end game that still looked weak for him. However, he managed to equalise the position by advancing his central pawn, and, as time began to run short on both clocks, it became clear that a decisive victory was not going to be scored by either side, so a draw was agreed. The major success was undoubtedly David’s since, although Karyakin is a high-ranking grandmaster, David has yet to gain his International Master title. This performance, coupled with his win over Speelman a few days before, showed that David can compete in the strongest company."

Grandmaster Daniel King starts his simul"After the exhibition match, the two young players plus Grandmaster Daniel King (pictured left) took part in simultaneous chess displays against members of the public and UK Chess Challenge Supremi (the UK Chess Challenge, sponsored by British Land, is the largest chess tournament in the world involving 66,000 children from 2,000 schools). In a marathon five-hour session, played inside a marquee especially erected by the Trustees of the Gilbert Collection, the Masters completed almost 180 games of chess. Sergey Karyakin proved particularly devastating, playing an incredible 68 games, defeating 63 players, drawing 3 games and losing only to Miguel Amen and Andrew Stone, a percentage of 94.9. David Howell played 59 games, won 48, drew 9 and lost to Xin Jie Gai of Oxfordshire and Tariq Oozerally from Surrey, a success rate of 90%. Danny King played 47 games, won 43, drew 3 and lost to Kees Pafort from Holland, scoring 94.7% The marquee, originally erected as a protection against possible rainfall, proved an immense boon against the scorching rays of the English sun. It would have been unlikely that the competitors would have been able to endure the 5 hour contest without it."

"Whilst these games were in progress a parallel blitz event for UK Chess Challenge children and members of the public was also being run in the Somerset House courtyard. At the same time the fountains were turned on which delighted all the children who splashed about in them excitedly throughout the afternoon."

"The event was generously sponsored by the British Land Company Plc, Freestream Aircraft Limited and Sir Jeremy Morse, KCMG. It was so popular that it may well be repeated next year." MJB

Howell vs Speelman

David Howell playing on a giant-sized setThe UK's top junior player David Howell (pictured left, aged 12) got in some superb practice for his head-to-head with Sergey Karyakin with a win against top English GM Jon Speelman. The game was played on 25 June on a giant set at Regent's Place, near Euston, London and sponsored by the British Land Company Plc.

Mike Basman reports: "David Howell’s remarkable victory over Grandmaster Jon Speelman has sent shock waves reverberating throughout the English chess scene. The two players met in a 30 minutes match at Regents Place, Euston, London. David Howell, 12 years old, was facing 47 year old Jonathan Speelman, three times British Champion, World Championship semi-finalist with a victory over Gary Kasparov to his credit. Few gave David much chance in this encounter, as Speelman, although not as strong a player as he was 10 years ago, still commands a regular place in the powerful English Olympic team. The reality was different. After an equal opening, Speelman played a natural looking move which turned out to be a tactical blunder. David spotted his opportunity immediately, won two pawns and gave Speelman absolutely no chance to wriggle out in the remainder of the game. This result, coming on the heels of his recent international master result in Budapest, will make even the strongest players in England sit up and take notice of Britain’s brilliant prodigy David Howell. If one of the leading, most experienced Grandmasters in the country can be demolished so easily, who any more is safe?"

Play through the Howell-Speelman game in a javascript window.


The Art of Chess Exhibition

Damien Hirst and his Mental Escapology chess setStarting on 28 June, London is host to a prestigious exhibition whose subject is 'The Art of Chess'. It features 19 chess sets designed by artists in the last hundred years that demonstrate the interaction between chess and modern art. This exhibition illustrates how this most challenging of games has inspired artists from 1900 to the present day, as it had in earlier centuries. The exhibition is generously supported by Oleg Deripaska. The exhibition runs from 28 June to 30 November 2003 (note: originally scheduled to end on 30 September, the exhibition has proved so popular that it has been extended to the end of November).

The venue is the Gilbert Collection, housed in Somerset House in the Strand, just a few steps from the world-famous 'Simpson's' where so many famous chess players congregated in the 19th century. (Picture left: Damien Hirst and his Mental Escapology chess set)

More about 'The Art of Chess' Exhibition


More on 'The Art of Chess' Exhibition

Throughout the 20th century the game of chess has been an inspiration, if not an obsession, for artists. The Art of Chess exhibition features nineteen chess sets dating from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. Each set illustrates a move in the apocryphal last game played by Napoleon with General Bertrand on St Helena in 1820.

On public view for the first time will be five recently commissioned chess sets designed by leading contemporary artists Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Paul McCarthy, Yayoi Kusama and Maurizio Cattelan. These new works will be set in context by chess sets designed during the 20th century by such major artists as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder and Yoko Ono.

The first exhibit will be the only known Fabergé chess set. Made by the workmaster Karl Gustav Hjalmar Armfelt, this exquisite silver-mounted hardstone set has pieces carved from tawny aventurine quartz and grey Kalagan jasper, the board being made of Siberian jade squares alternating with pale apricot serpentine. It was specially made circa 1905 for Tsar Nicolas II's Commander in Chief of the Russo-Japanese War, General Alexei Kouropatkin.

There is just one set dating from the 19th century: a Kholmogory Russian mammoth ivory set. The village of Kholmogory, near Arkhangel'sk, was a centre of bone and ivory carving, the origins of which go back to the Neolithic period. The Kings are shown as chiefs holding pipes, the Bishops as hunters with rifles and the Knights intricately carved as reindeer heads. Such decorative sets were popular with the Russian aristocracy and this delightful example is laid out as the first move when Napoleon brought out his Knight as did his opponent.

From the Soviet Union of the 1920s will be two remarkable Russian Revolutionary chess sets that reflect the social conflicts of the time, designed by the sisters Natalia and Yelena Danko for the Lomonosov State Porcelain Factory in Leningrad. The rarer of the two is popularly known as The Town and Country design and was produced in a limited number of prototypes. One side features the King and Queen as factory workers, while on the opposing side the King and Queen are farm workers, the Knights water wheels and the Pawns are bottles of milk with open books beside them. In the second propaganda set, Capitalists versus Communists, one of the Kings is modelled as Death holding a human thigh bone.

Marcel DuchampThe second gallery focuses on the work of Marcel Duchamp (pictured left, in 1950), the Bauhaus and Meissen. Duchamp was so enamoured of chess that in the 1920s his professional involvement in the game caused many to conclude that he had ceased artistic activities altogether. As a member of the French team, he played in the 1928 chess Olympiad. The exhibition features two sets by Duchamp, the first designed while he was living in Buenos Aires in 1919. The set comes with a travelling foldaway table and a board that has two stopwatches for timed games. From 1943 is a pocket set with a leather wallet, celluloid pieces and ingenious pin attachments, designed by Duchamp as a 'Rectified Readymade'.

One of the most important influences on the design of chess sets in the 20th century was the Bauhaus school of art and design which flourished in Germany between 1919 and 1928. Josef Hartwig was the Workshop Master in charge of woodcarving and the set on view demonstrates in miniature the Bauhaus design principles. He rejected the traditional idea of figures and based his design on the function of the pieces on the board. The King, for example, is a cube diagonally set on top of a larger cube reflecting the way that the piece can move in a limited fashion in all directions while the Queen, the most mobile piece in the game, is a sphere on top of a large cube, the fluid sphere representing the privileged degree of movement the piece is allowed.

A Meissen stoneware Art Deco 'futuristic' chess set was designed by Max Esser, a master craftsman for the celebrated porcelain factory in the 1920s. The terracotta and dark chocolate brown pieces are in the fashionable Art Deco style: the Bishops in the form of Japanese tsunami, or giant crested waves, and the Knights as stylised horses' heads.

The third gallery is devoted to the chess sets of the Avant-Garde and Fluxus movements. A travelling chess set, designed by the American sculptor Alexander Calder, illustrates the artist's ability to fashion intensely evocative art from the debris of daily life. Completed over a weekend in 1942, it is made from segments of a broom handle which he then daubed with red and black paint. The resulting pieces are a combination of abstract and figurative design.

In 1944 the Julien Levy Gallery in New York commissioned a number of contemporary artists to design chess sets for an innovative exhibition entitled The Imagery of Chess. Amongst the original exhibits was a boxwood set by Max Ernst. The abstract pieces possess a rhythm that plays out across the board during a game. The powerful curve of the crescent-shaped Knight suggest both a horse's head and the circuitous character of the moves while the configuration of the Bishop evokes both a mitre as well as its ability to move two ways.

Man RayMan Ray's abstract set of 1946 has pieces of red and silver anodised alloy with a varnished wood board. Man Ray (pictured left, playing chess at home in Hollywood, 1946) was an avid amateur chess player although his friend Marcel Duchamp jokingly referred to him as little more than 'a wood pusher'. However Man Ray said that his interest in the game was "directed towards designing new forms for chess pieces, of not much interest to players, but to me a fertile field for invention".

Yoko Ono, also an avid chess player, was a member of the informal international group of artists from the early 1960s to the late 1970s known as Fluxus. Her painted wood set White on White Chess Set from 1966 was surprisingly classical in design and comes with white chairs, a white inlaid board and white pieces. In this exhibition, the 1997 version of the original entitled Play it by Trust is on show. The concept of an all-white chess set derails any ordinary game as the players lose track of their pieces, ideally leading to a shared understanding of mutual concerns. Takako Saito's Fluxus Weight Chess Set from 1964 was made to fit into a drawer of a 'Flux Cabinet' and comprises a series of identical white boxes - each piece being defined by its weight. The King, for example, has steel ball bearings in the box while the boxes for the Pawns contain sand. George Maciunas, another leading Fluxist artist, is represented by Colour Balls in Bottle-Board-Chess Set of 1966 which is made from glass jam jars glued together to form a square board with coloured balls inside them. To make a move it is necessary to reach inside the relevant jar and move the ball to another jar on the 'board'.

Damien Hirst's Mental Escapology setThe final gallery is devoted to the five contemporary sets and boards commissioned in 2001 by RS&A Ltd, a new London-based company dedicated to producing innovative projects with contemporary artists. Each set, made in an edition of seven, is individually crafted in a variety of different materials such as wood, porcelain, glass and silver and packaged to the artist's specified wishes. Damien Hirst's Mental Escapology set (pictured right) comprises glass and silver casts of medicine bottles with etched silver labels. The glass and mirrored board displays the biohazard symbol. It is accompanied by its own glass medicine chest.

Paul McCarthy's Kitchen Chess setThe set designed by Jake and Dinos Chapman has hand-painted black and white bronze figures and a wood marquetry board inlaid with black and white double-headed skulls and crossbones. The pieces are post-apocalyptic adolescent figures, one side white with Arian haircuts, the opposing side black with Afro hair. The set is packaged in its own handcrafted games box. The Los Angeles artist Paul McCarthy is a keen chess player. His Kitchen Chess set is made from random objects found in his own kitchen such as a miniature rubber duck and a ketchup bottle. The board and box have been made from the artist's kitchen floor that was ripped up during the project as a tribute to Duchamp's chess board design of 1937.


Pumpkin Chess set and boardJapanese artist Yayoi Kusama's porcelain Pumpkin Chess set and board (pictured left - Yayoi Kusama, 2003, King 14.5 cm, Pawn 6.5 cm Pumpkin Board, presented in a leather Pumpkin display case) is decorated with her signature spot motif. Made by the German porcelain factory Villeroy & Boch, the white side has red dots while the opposing side bears black dots on a yellow ground. The porcelain board is painted with the same colour combination. The set is presented in a white leather display case. The final exhibit, laid out as Napoleon's fictional last move, is the creation of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan who is known for his mischievous sense of humour. Made by Bertozzi and Casoni and titled Good versus Evil, the black King is shown as Hitler opposed on the white side by Martin Luther King. Notable figures such as Donatella Versace, Rasputin, General Custer, Superman, Mother Teresa and Sitting Bull appear as Pawns.

The exhibition ends with two classic silent films, Chess Fever and Entr'acte. The former is an early Soviet comedy featuring a number of the world's greatest chess players, including Capablanca and Marshall, filmed during a tournament in Moscow in 1925. Vladimir Fogel, a leading comic actor of the 1920s, plays a hapless chess fanatic. Entr'acte was made in Paris in 1924 to be shown between two acts of Francis Picabia's ballet Relâche. There are also computers on which visitors can try their luck against Fritz 8 and its 'little brother' Fritz and Chesster.

'From my close contact with artists and chess players I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.' Marcel Duchamp, Cazenovia, 1952

Exhibition Times and Details: 10.00am - 6pm (last admission 5.30pm). Price of admission to the exhibition (n.b. not the simul/Karyakin-Howell match which have free admission): £7 (including the permanent collection - some 800 works of art including magnificent silver, gold snuffboxes and Italian mosaics collected over forty years by the late Sir Arthur Gilbert), concessions £6.

All text and photos © 2003 British Chess Magazine Ltd. Not to be used without consent


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