Monday, March 21, 2016

Chess Kitsch vs. Chess Art

Photo credit: A. P.
Kitsch is a universal phenomenon, and chess motifs are quite common in it: used to symbolize the "game" of life (or love, etc.), time's passing, and so on. Here we have a typical example (the criminal's details are safe with us), which we happened to notice hanging in a large public hall in Israel. The painting appears to represent the artist's feeling of angst in their fight against fate and time. Hence the hourglass, withered tree, and chess board (signifying time's passing), and the dark, stormy skies (signifying depression and anxiety). But there is hope: the sun is peeking from behind the clouds, and a homely, antique oil lamp, bravely lit against the elements. What the boiling tea kettle -- whose steam seems to mysteriously mix with the clouds in the background -- and finjan (brass Bedouin coffee pot) signify, is beyond me.

Of a totally different calibre is the art - real art, this time -- of Elke Rehder. The woodcut illustrations of Stephan Zweig's chess novel are particularly good. Here is the cover of her woodcut collection, but go to the link for numerous other examples:

Source: see above.

On the subject of chess kitsch, looking for 'folk chess art' on the Internet discovered that many sellers seem to have rather optimistic pricing policy. The Vaillancourt Folk Art company is selling a Christmas-themed chess set, 'limited edition of 25', for $7500. Another outfit is selling a 1910s chess board (sans pieces) for $1250, and a search for 'chess' on their web site finds similar prices for similar objects, including $595 for a 1950s plastic set. Even a quick eBay search found equivalent (and sometimes the very same) items for one-tenth the price, or less.

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