The rules of the game
“Le regole del gioco” (“The rules of the game”) by Massimo Kaufmann, an exhibition with a strong interactive and performative character that animates FORUM900, opens on 31 May at the Museo del Novecento in Milan.
Four works, true artist's chessboards, are on display: three of them, made of wood and measuring 57x57 cm, consist of the usual 64 squares and 32 chess pieces painted with oil paints in 96 different colours; the fourth, Pan, is smaller in size and is intended for children.
In spite of the clear subversion of the first rule of chess - which here no longer envisages only black and white opposing each other, but rather an infinite number of colours - the modalities and rules of the game remain identical and the chessboards perfectly usable: two sufficiently experienced players can confront each other according to all the canonical rules without incurring any drawback other than the perceptual confusion generated by the colours and accentuated by the continuous shifting of the pieces.
As proof of this, the four chessboards are made available to visitors who, with prior reservation, will be able to compete in exciting chess duels on Tuesdays during the lunch break and on Thursdays before the scheduled talks. The artist will also be available for the challenges: a presence that transforms the exhibition project into a performance.
Massimo Kaufmann's chessboards are conceived in a critical historical moment, the year 2020, which will not end with the waning of the pandemic but will continue in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It is therefore precisely in the theme of conflict that Kaufmann's works are rooted: the “war”, which the game of chess represents and reproduces, is shown under a different aspect. Each piece on the chessboard retains its functional characteristics but has an identity, given by its colour, that prevents it from belonging to a precise side. A situation that generates cognitive confusion and encourages changes of field and membership.
The chess game thus becomes a metaphor for a conflict in which not only two antagonists confront each other but an innumerable array of different subjectivities come alive in the game, as if to show a multilaterality of the components involved. As in real wars, there are factors that multiply the points of view and interests in play.
The game becomes more complicated, as the theme of the conflict becomes clearer, in the third chessboard. Done in 96 shades of grey, it is openly inspired by Picasso's Guernica, adopting the same title because contrary to popular belief, Guernica is not black and white, but painted in an infinite variety of greys, the result of adding black to reds, blues, yellows, in a range of "burnt" colours, as war incinerates everything it touches.
It is perhaps this work, in its tribute to what is considered by many to be the most important work of the 20th century, that constitutes the trait d'union between the two great thematic nuclei of the exhibition: conflict and painting. For Massimo Kaufmann the main game remains painting, its very definition, with its infinite variables and possibilities for shaping meaning, whether enigmatic or polyvalent, without ignoring the fact that any game has always its rules.
Also in the other two chessboards, those with more vivid colours, Le Regole del Gioco (The Rules of the Game) and Calibano (Caliban), painting emerges as the protagonist. The artist mentions how colours in painting have always fought against each other. In the most extraordinary works dedicated to war, such as those by Paolo Uccello or Boccioni, the clash takes shape through a chromatic dispute that seems to prepare for an explosion of energy. The idea that colours represent dynamic energy, like trumpet blasts and drum rolls, shows all the will to power that has always accompanied the rhetoric of war.
A programme of challenges and encounters is also planned for June, in the presence of Massimo Kaufmann himself and the three authors of the texts in the catalogue - Marco Senaldi, philosopher, curator and contemporary art theorist, Francesco Cataluccio, writer and essayist, and Lorenzo Madaro, art critic and curator - who will converse about chess, literature and contemporary art.
The exhibition, supported by Analysis, is accompanied by the catalogue “Le regole del gioco” (“The rules of the game”) published by Pondus.