14 July 2011

Brutalism in Chess

My fortnightly series on Top eBay Chess Items by Price frequently features chess sets, of which the most recent was Political Chess. The auction for the set pictured below was titled '1960s BRUTALIST Mid Century Modern Bronze CHESS SET', received 29 bids from 11 bidders, and finally sold for US $1048.


The set reminded me of my post Statue or Sculpture? from a few days ago, where here we have 32 miniature statues (or sculptures). The description said,

Wonderful vintage 1960s era artisan hand crafted bronze Brutalist modernist chess set. Tallest piece is approx 4.75" tall. Each piece is an individual work of art, each piece is different with none matching. No board with this set. Fresh from a fine old Denver estate.

What exactly does 'brutalist' mean? Wikipedia was less helpful than usual; from Brutalist architecture:-

Characteristics: Brutalist buildings usually are formed with striking repetitive angular geometries, and, where concrete is used, often revealing the texture of the wooden forms used for the in-situ casting. Although concrete is the material most widely associated with Brutalist architecture, not all Brutalist buildings are formed from concrete. Instead, a building may achieve its Brutalist quality through a rough, blocky appearance, and the expression of its structural materials, forms, and (in some cases) services on its exterior.

It's hard to see the relationship between chess sets and massive buildings that are essentially big slabs of concrete. Furthermore, there is no Wikipedia entry for 'brutalist art', while other web sources mainly focus on the architectural aspects of brutalism. The best explanation I got was visual -- Google Images on 'brutalist art' -- where mixed in with photos of massive buildings are a few sculptures. To coin a phrase, brutalism is in the eye of the beholder.

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