On either side of the chequered board are Adolf Hitler and Cruella De Vil, posing as the Black King and Queen in front of their opponents Martin Luther King Jr. and the Virgin Mary. Flanked by the latter’s’ side are, amongst others, Mahatma Gandhi and Che Guevara as bishops with Mother Teresa, Pinocchio and a fire-fighter as pawns. Pitched against them are Count Dracula and the biblical serpent as rooks, with Donatella Versace and Rasputin as villain pawns. Sigmund Freud makes an appearance on both the Good and the Evil side, his studies on the competing forces of the unconscious allowing him to be a schizophrenic character in Cattelan’s irreverent game of chess.
With its beautifully executed and intricately detailed porcelain figurines crafted by renowned Italian ceramicists Bertozzi and Casoni, Good Versus Evil was first exhibited in The Art of Chess at the Gilbert Collection, London, in 2003. Each of the nineteen chess sets that were on display represented a move in the legendary and debatably fictional final chess game played between Napoleon Bonaparte and his great friend General Henri-Gratien Bertrand during their exile on the isle of St. Helena in 1820, shortly before the French Emperor’s death. Despite being one of the greatest military leaders in History and being very fond of chess, Napoleon Bonaparte was rumoured to be rather mediocre at this strategy game. However, according to Captain Hugh Alexander Kenny’s second-hand account of the events, he supposedly “came off victorious” of this one (Hugh Alexander Kennedy, Waifs and Strays, 1862, p. 87).
Amongst chess sets by a wide range of both Modern and Contemporary artists, such as Calder, Duchamp, the Chapman brothers and Damien Hirst, Good Versus Evil was selected by the curators of The Art of Chess to embody Napoleon’s final game-winning move.
Cattelan’s satirical helter-skelter mixture of pop culture, historical characters and religious figures indeed perfectly exemplifies an artist whose works can or cannot be taken seriously, and is therefore the obvious choice to demonstrate a check-mate coup from an allegedly bad chess player. A witty epitome of a multifaceted practice that delights in subversion, Good Versus Evil, with its startling imagery and trademark ironic narrative singles Maurizio Cattelan out as one of the most eloquent voices in Contemporary Art.
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