Chess and Art in Iceland
By Jennifer Shahade   
March 6, 2009
Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin Chess set, 2003, All images courtesy Reykjavik Art Museum
The Reykjavik Art Museum, also the host of the 2009 Reykjavik Open, is currently showing 32 Pieces: The Art of Chess , a showcase of contemporary chess sets. The exhibition is co-curated by Larry List of New York, and Mark Sanders and Julia Royse of England.

Larry List, who also organized the Imagery of Chess Revisited, (and wrote a book by the same name) at the Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York (2005-2006) told CLO, " the more chess sets I see, the more I think that creating a chess set is a design problem and creative matrix for artists that is potentially as deep and limitless as the game itself."

List continued, " The chess set designs and projects currently assembled at the Reykjavik Art Museum challenge and confound all normal expectations and offer world champions and wood-pushers alike a fresh opportunity to re-think the game. "

The exhibition has attracted 2500 guests from the opening in January 09 to March. Soffía Karlsdóttir, communication director at the museum, told CLO that the attendance exceeded expectations—there were 800 people at a curator/artist walk-through of the exhibit. When asked which was the most popular set, Karlsdóttir responded, "Most of the guests spend a lot of time with Maurizio Cattelan's Chess Set "Good versus Evil" just to figure out who is who. Chess Masters are very interested in the Kitchen set, because Kasparov used to play with it in Moscow."

Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled (Good vs.Evil), 2003

Check out the gallery below, and to see even more of the featured chess sets (some of which would be considered "Rated R"), check out the homepage of the exhibition or my personal website.

Mental Escapology by Damien Hirst, 2003

Rachel Whiteread, Modern Chess Set, 2005

Tom Friedman, Untitled, 2005

A wide view of the exhibition hall

Amorphous Organic by Alastair Mackie ,2008

From March 23-April 2, the museum will also host the Reykjavik Open, and among the participants is the 2008 U.S. Champion, Yury Shulman. Despite the financial crisis in Iceland, they have actually transitioned the traditionally biannual event into a yearly one! Although the economic catastrophe in Iceland is devestating for many citizens, it could be an incentive to potential travellers. Professional poker player Ben Johnson, in a 2006 Chess Life Magazine article , raved about the conditions at that year's big Open, but pointed out that many would-be participants would be stunned at the sky-high prices of food and other basics. No longer the case, according to Icelandic Chess Federation President Bjorn Thorfinnsson , "NOW is really the time to visit Iceland due to the recession. One year ago you would get 63 Icelandic kronas for one dollar but now you get 125-130 kronas!"

Check the Reykjavik Open website for more information or go to their facebook page. You can also find a list of confirmed players on

The exterior of the Reykjavik Art Museum