Chess Statues

by admin on October 23, 2010

What does it take to get a statue made of you? Apparently, just being world champion is not enough. Just for fun, I did a search this morning for statues of the chess world champions — not counting gravestones — and I only came up with three.

First, there is the statue of Max Euwe in Amsterdam. (Note: To avoid copyright infringement, I am posting a link to the picture, not the picture itself. Scroll about 2/3 of the way down the page to item number 4121.) From an artistic point of view this is clearly the best sculpture of a chess world champion. I love its use of negative space, which somehow to me conveys the cerebral nature of the game, the fact that its beauty is somehow not in the flesh-and-blood player or in the tangible pawn, but in the space surrounding them.

Second, there is a sculpture of Mikhail Tal in Riga. Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see it. It definitely seems to be separate from Tal’s gravestone, which is pictured immediately above it. My first reaction was, “This doesn’t look anything like Tal.” First, in this sculpture he has hair, and second, the picture is taken from straight in front, so we can’t see the hawk’s-bill nose that made Tal look so distinctive in profile. But maybe it looks like Tal in his youth, I don’t know.

Finally, in Yerevan, Armenia, you can find this brooding visage of Tigran Petrosian atop a concrete (?) or marble (?) column, with a couple of muses or dryads or nymphs or something playing a chess game at its base. Sort of a mixture of the Soviet and classical aesthetics. A second bust of Petrosian is located near the Tigran Petrosian Chess House, which is itself quite an impressive building, as seen in this link.

Have I missed any world champions’ statues?

It strikes me, on the basis of this small sample, that the answer to the question at the beginning of this entry is this: To be worthy of a statue, you need to be a world champion from a small country. Thus, Euwe (Holland), Tal (Latvia) and Petrosian (Armenia) earn their statues, while Steinitz (Germany/America), Lasker (Germany), Alekhine (Russia/France), Botvinnik (Russia), Smyslov (Russia), Spassky (Russia) and Fischer (America/Iceland) do not get them. The only anomaly is Capablanca, of Cuba, who according to my rule should have a statue. Also, according to my rule it’s conceivable that Fischer could have a statue in his honor some day in Iceland … but I tend to doubt it.

Of course, I’m leaving out living players from my list. I think that Anand could turn out to be another exception to my rule. He is such a national hero in India that I suspect he will someday be cast in bronze.

By the way, the thing that made me curious about statues was reading this article about former President Bill Clinton’s statue in Pristina, Kosovo. I was amazed to find out that Bill Clinton has a statue anywhere in the world, but it turns out that the Kosovars (that’s the word for someone who lives in Kosovo) love him because of his bombing campaign in 1999 that drove the Serbians out of Kosovo. The statue is 11 feet tall and made of gilded bronze, and it is located on Bill Clinton Boulevard. There is a better picture of it in an article from The New Republic with a perfectly descriptive title: “Tall, Bronze, and Hideous.” (The reader comments to this article are pretty funny — check out the bust of John Kennedy “in an advanced state of postmortem decay.”)

Believe it or not, the statue of Bill Clinton in Kosovo is not the only one! He also has a statue in Ballybunion, Ireland.  Because the statue in Pristina commemorates Clinton’s liberation of Kosovo, it is natural to assume that President Clinton must have also performed some great national service for Ireland. What was it? The answer is … he played a round of golf there! Seriously! Check out this hilarious article by Eamon Lynch, from a magazine called T & L Golf, on how Clinton’s golfing statue came about.

It’s interesting that the statues-in-small-countries rule even applies (to some extent) to U.S. presidents.

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