The Art of Chess

Alastair Mackie
selected works



Fifteen unique chess sets and boards made by internationally renowned contemporary artists. Each chess set has its own concept reflecting the artists' vivid imagination. 

Curators: Mark Sanders, Julia Royse, and Larry List.
Alastair Mackie Amorphous Organic

Alastair Mackie (born 1977) is fascinated with the intricate details in our natural lives.  His chess set is a logical evolution from a work he made in 2007, a set of dice cut from amber. The surface was set with mosquitoes that make up each of the die's digits.  His chess set was influenced by seeing the amber collection in the Department of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in London. 

Each chess piece encapsulates a single suspended insect, perhaps millions of years old. The ‘white’ pieces are represented by flying insects and the ‘black’ side by ground based insects. So, for example, the ‘white’ knight is represented by an exotic wasp and the ‘black’ king, by a scorpion.   The chessboard design takes its reference from a geological sample-viewing table. A light box has been set into the surface of the table to illuminate the insects trapped in the clear amber pieces. Specimen drawers in the side of the table house the pieces out of play.

“Perhaps in this case each move, each little death, however small and insignificant in its own right, has the potential to bring us closer to answering questions to do with the very existence of life on this planet, questions to do our own origins and future.”


Paul Fryer Chess Set for Tesla

British artist Paul Fryer (born 1963) is best known for his hyperrealist sculpture and his fascination with science and the cosmos.  Fryer’s chess set is called the Tesla Set in honour of the great and peculiar inventor Nikola Tesla. Some credit Tesla with the invention of the vacuum tube, on which the set is based, although this is an area of some dispute.  Paul decided to honour Tesla for his artistic attributes rather than his scientific achievements, as he liked to play with lightning and high voltage generators and loved spectacle and sensation – Fryer shares these interests and has made extraordinary works that detect atoms in space and sculptures that create lightning.  Tesla was also very interested in transmitting power through open space, which is a central goal in the making of art. The board of the chess set powers the vacuum tube pieces so that when unplugged the individual pieces glow for a little while, struggling to keep connection with the board, and then die.  Plug them back in and they reactivate.


Other Artists exhibiting chess sets included:


Maurizio Cattelan, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Oliver Clegg, Tracey Emin, Tom Friedman, Damien Hirst, Barbara Kruger, Yayoi Kusama, Paul Mc Carthy, Matthew Ronay, Tunga, Gavin Turk, Rachel Whiteread