On Chess: Drawn Games And Posters From Around The World
The art of posters is one of the earliest forms of advertising. The current exhibit at the World Chess Hall of Fame, “Drawn Games,” feature posters from 27 countries around the world, all of which have chess as the main theme.
Public announcements date back to ancient times, but the poster began to come into its own after the 1796 invention of lithography by Bavarian actor and playwright Alois Senefelder. The new print technique allowed posters to be created more cheaply and efficiently. As the 19th century progressed, posters began to be seen as more than simply means of communication; they were also works of art that were accessible to collectors of varied social stations.
In the 20th century, promoters of chess tournaments created posters to raise awareness of competitions and to use as souvenirs. In 1976, Goldman’s Gallery held an exhibition of posters by artists in connection with the Chess Olympiad held in Haifa, Israel. Artists Otmar Alt and Allan Davies created colorful abstractions that capture the joy of playing the game. Another featured artist is Samuel Bak, a Holocaust survivor whose artwork includes chess imagery as a means of exploring the devastation caused by war and other conflicts. Bak’s design for the 1976 Chess Olympiad in Haifa showcases his trademark surreal chess imagery with a number of wooden knights posed before a rook with waving flags. The exhibit also features Romanian-born artist Jean David, who designed posters to promote tourism to Israel. The “Father of the Op-Art Movement,” Victor Vasarely created a poster inspired by some of his earlier experiments with incorporating chess into his artwork. In the 1930s, Vasarely became entranced by patterns, including that of a chessboard that became the quintessential framework for his art.
Other posters in the WCHOF’s poster show exhibit a tradition of chess-related artwork created by Puerto Rican artists following the beginning of Narciso Rabell Mendez’s tenure as the president of the Puerto Rican Chess Federation. Many of Puerto Rico’s most prominent artists participated in creating these engaging works, including Antonio Maldonado and Rafael Tufiño. Members of the Puerto Rican Chess Federation took posters like these to international tournaments in which they competed as a way of sharing highlights of their arts and culture.
One of the world’s oldest and best-loved games, chess often appears in film and television. To promote the “Queen of Katwe” (2014), which tells the story of Ugandan chess phenom, Phiona Mutesi, Disney produced a poster with a chess piece at its center. The poster for Liz Garbus’s documentary “Bobby Fischer Against the World” (2011) includes a portion of a photo of Fischer by famed photojournalist Harry Benson, the only journalist whom Fischer trusted. Another poster features actor and chess enthusiast Humphrey Bogart playing chess as the character Rick Blaine from “Casablanca” (1942). The poster for “The Seventh Seal” (1957) features perhaps one of the most famous chess scenes in film, in which actor Max von Sydow plays a knight returning from the Crusades who challenges death to a game of chess.
From World Chess championships to film and television, “Drawn Games: Chess Posters from Around the World” offers a window into chess around the world. The exhibition is on view at the World Chess Hall of Fame through Nov. 1.
Emily Allred is a curator at the World Chess Hall of Fame, a museum that explores the intersections between chess and art, history and popular culture.