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Robb Design Portfolio: Surreality Check

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Unable to locate the original Plexiglas chess pieces that artist Isamu Noguchi made in 1944 for this chess table (left), Larry List, guest curator of The Imagery of Chess Revisited—which runs from October 21 through March 5, 2006, at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, N.Y.—spent nine months fashioning a replica set for the exhibit. List explains that Noguchi’s pieces followed the strictures of Chinese portraiture, which depicts subjects either head-on or in profile. But by joining the two parts of each piece at a 90-degree angle, Noguchi presented both perspectives. “From a rigorous traditional source, he arrived at revolutionary chess pieces,” List says.
 
Noguchi created the set for a show that ran in 1944 and ’45 at the Julien Levy Gallery in Manhattan. The exhibit included chess-themed works by artists in the surrealist movement, which peaked during World War II. (The Levy gallery closed in 1949.) The new show will feature 12 of the 13 chess sets from the Levy show, including Man Ray’s Silver Chess Set (1926, below), and several paintings and sculptures. Max Ernst’s The King Playing with the Queen (1944, above) is said to have been a tribute to fellow surrealist Dorothea Tanning, who, in 1946, became his fourth wife. “He stayed married to her for the rest of his life,” List says. “That’s probably why this queen is taller than the other pieces.” 

The Noguchi Museum, 718.204.7088, www.noguchi.org

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