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  • 'Why isn’t my chess playing an art activity? A chess game is very plastic […] with chess one creates beautiful problems and that beauty is made with the head and hands.'
    —Marcel Duchamp
    Executed between 1943 and 1945, Untitled (chess set) is an early example of Alberto Burri’s formal experimentation with materiality that would later cast him as one of the most influential Post-War artists of the 20th Century. The chess set was created by Burri when he was held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Hereford, Texas. He had been transferred to the American camp following his capture in Tunisia while serving as a military doctor in the Italian army. It was here that Burri first began painting: ‘to take my mind off what was happening around me and the war […] It was the period that I realised I “had” to be a painter’.i

     

    An opportunity arose to show his work for the first time when an exhibition was staged in an unused officers’ barracks in August 1945. It was intended to raise the morale of the imprisoned men who had access to art materials either donated by charities or purchased through the camp’s post exchange. Despite Burri’s recent discovery of painterly practice–primarily taking landscapes as his subjects–he chose to display his hand-carved chess set.

     

    Untitled (chess set) was carved from wood using a razor blade purchased from the camp’s canteen. The board is constructed from four rectangular wooden panels painted in red and black. While the tops of these panels set out the conventional chequerboard pattern, the exterior of the board depicts three masks positioned above snakes and a bird with outstretched wings. When not in play, the panels of the board can be arranged into a totem. The carved wooden chess pieces are reimagined as totemic kings and queens, the bishops are coiled snakes, the knights are shaped like crocodiles with their tails pointing in the air, the castles are palm trees, and the pawns are represented by a row of turtles. The design recalls the African sculptural forms that inspired European avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque in the early decades of the 20th Century – an artistic resonance perhaps given more immediate context for Burri following his recent military service in Tunisia. When he was repatriated to Italy in 1946, he carried the chess set with him, asserting the significance of the work to the artist.

     

    Grebo Ethnie Grebo Mask. Undated, from Ivory Coast. From Pablo Picasso’s personal collection. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean
    Grebo Ethnie Grebo Mask. Undated, from Ivory Coast. From Pablo Picasso’s personal collection. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean

    James Johnson Sweeney, who played a significant role in championing Burri’s work in the former’s capacity as the second director of the Guggenheim Museum, finds resonance between the artist’s treatment of his canvases and his medical training: ‘He is an artist with a scalpel–the surgeon conscious of what lies within the flesh of his compositions and moved by it to the point that he can make the observer also sensitive to it’.ii While Sweeney refers to Burri’s practice as a painter, the process of carving the chess set with a razor blade anticipates the later slicing (and subsequent stitching) of the collaged burlap sacks in his Sacchi series (1950-1956). In 1955, Burri returned to wood-based works in his Legni series. Strips of veneered wood were defaced, and in some instances scorched, before being attached to canvases.

     

    Alberto Burri, Umbria vera, 1952, sack and oil on canvas, Private Collection. Image: © 2021. White Images/Scala, Florence. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – DACS 2021
    Alberto Burri, Umbria vera, 1952, sack and oil on canvas, Private Collection. Image: © 2021. White Images/Scala, Florence. © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – DACS 2021

    Chess has proved an enduring subject-matter for artists. Marcel Duchamp was famously a committed player, characterising the game as an ‘art activity’ due its dual nature as a ‘plastic’ and conceptual practice, ‘made with the head and hands’.iii Duchamp introduced chess as a theme to several of his important early works and often played with Man Ray using sets made by the artists. For Burri, his Untitled (chess set) reveals the chess board to be an imaginative world in which the artist’s deep interest in the possibilities of material form is ingeniously employed in the crafting of the masks and animals that populate it.

     

    Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp playing chess, c. 1957. © Michel Sima / Bridgeman Images
    Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp playing chess, c. 1957. © Michel Sima / Bridgeman Images

    i Alberto Burri, quoted in Burri: Lo Spazio di Materia / Tra Europa e USA, exh. cat., Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Citta di Castello, 2016, p. 26
    ii James Johnson Sweeney, quoted in Caitlin Dover, ‘“Damage, Repair, and Vulnerability”: The Story of Alberto Burri’, Guggenheim, 14 October 2015, online
    iii Marcel Duchamp, quoted in Richard Avedon and Truman Capote, Observations, New York, 1959, p. 55

    • 來源

      私人收藏(由藝術家送贈)
      私人收藏
      現藏者由上述來源繼承

    • 過往展覽

      Texas, Hereford, Mostra d'arte dei prigionieri di Hereford, August 1945
      New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, 9 October 2015 - 6 January 2016, fig. 11, 12, pp. 31, 92, 276 (illustrated, p. 31)

    • 文學

      Caitlin Dover, '"Damage, Repair and Vulnerability": The Story of Alberto Burri', The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation, 14 October 2015, online
      Burri: Lo Spazio di Materia/ Tra Europa e USA, exh. cat., Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Citta di Castello, 2016, pp. 26, 27, 58 (illustrated, pp. 28, 58)

156

《無題(國際象棋)》

油漆 卡片 裱於木 木 金屬別針(共36組)
最小組:1.8 x 1.4 x 1.4 公分 (0 3/4 x 0 1/2 x 0 1/2 英吋)
最大組:6.3 x 2 x 1.6 公分 (2 1/2 x 0 3/4 x 0 5/8 英吋)
棋盤:2 x 24.3 x 24.8 公分 (0 3/4 x 9 5/8 x 9 3/4 英吋)
整體:8.3 x 24.3 x 24.8 公分 (3 1/4 x 9 5/8 x 9 3/4 英吋)

1943-45年作

Full Cataloguing

估價
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠

成交價£252,000

聯絡專家

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二十世紀及當代藝術

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二十世紀及當代藝術日間拍賣

倫敦拍賣2021年10月14日