Can an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery do justice to chess? A grandmaster's verdictby Jonathan Rowson / September 27, 2012 / Leave a comment
It is not easy to make small talk about chess. When people hear that I played the game professionally for several years they often ask what kinds of chess sets I like—ornate, sculpted, antique? The conversation doesn’t get any easier when I say that a cheap plastic set is often just as good, if not better. For an experienced player the design of the board and pieces, however finely conceived, feels like a distraction from the real wellspring of aesthetic charm: the pristine logic and beguiling geometry of chess.
So when Radio 4’s Front Row asked me to review “The Art of Chess” at the Saatchi Gallery I was intrigued, but I doubted that these distinguished artists could capture the art of chess as chess players experience it. In that sense the premise of the exhibition felt slightly obtuse to me, a way of playing at being serious rather than being serious about play. It is, of course, wonderful to have the enduring cultural resonance of chess celebrated in such a prestigious way. Yet I wondered whether these figures have a legitimate warrant to represent chess as a cultural reference point when few of them know anything about chess as a game.