Museum InfoMedia Room

DIA exterior at night
DIA exterior at night

Make a Move to the Detroit Institute of Arts to View Rare and Exquisite Chess Sets from Around the World

Friday, November 14, 2008

(Detroit) – Like two superior game pieces, Dr. George and Vivian Dean have strategically moved themselves around the world gathering the most dynamic, rare and unusual chess sets they could find. 

Their world-renown collection will be on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in the exhibition Master Pieces: Chess Sets from the Dr. George and Vivian Dean Collection from December 26, 2008 to May 17, 2009. Master Pieces includes more than two dozen exquisite sets ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. The exhibition is free with museum admission.

Dean, a physician who owned practices in Redford and Southfield, Michigan, said the hobby started when he and Vivian took a trip to the Middle East in 1962. In the lobby of their hotel, Vivian fell in love with a silver and gold chess set made by a Yemeni craftsman. The couple’s $200 souvenir budget was spent on an impulse purchase that would spark an enduring interest.

“After that, whenever we went on a trip, we would buy a chess set,” said Dean, founder and president emeritus of Chess Collectors International. “Then we got the bug and started going on ‘chess set safaris.’ We would pick a country, learn how to say, ‘Do you have any antique chess sets?’ in the language of that country, then rent a car and drive around and buy them.”

Today, the Deans have the most extensive collection of antique and fine art chess sets in the world. Included in the collection is the only Faberge chess set ever made.

Featuring a wide range of materials and designs, pieces and boards in the DIA exhibition demonstrate how differently artists throughout history and across the globe have interpreted the game of chess. The artists’ superb craftsmanship and creativity are explored, with sections featuring ivory and porcelain examples, including sets by Sèvres and Meissen. Some sets include tiny insects, sea creatures, and a variety of precious bejeweled objects.

Several themes are explored in the exhibition, including the ideological oppositions that the game of chess has been used to evoke, such as Good vs. Evil or Communism vs. Capitalism; the fascinating stories of set ownership, such as one commissioned from Fabergé and another once owned by Catherine the Great; and the variety of artistic styles, including abstract and modern. Some of the modern artists featured are Man Ray and Salvador Dalí.

Items including chess sets and books will be available in the DIA’s Museum Shop.

This exhibition has been generously supported by Dr. George and Vivian Dean. Additional support has been provided by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the City of Detroit.

Chess related activities:

  • Three chess stations will be positioned near the exhibition during business hours for attendees to play at their leisure.
  • The Detroit City Chess Club meets at the DIA every Friday from 5–9 p.m. for chess practice. The club’s mission is to teach area students the game and life lessons. Members of the club have won national, regional, and state competitions. People wanting to learn how to play chess should show up between 5 and 7 p.m. There will be no teaching between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Hours and admission:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for senior citizens, and $4 for youth ages 6-17. DIA members are admitted free. For more information, call (313) 833-7900 or see the website at


The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA),located at 5200 Woodward Avenue in Detroit, is one of the premier art museums in the United States and home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA's collection is known for its quality, range, and depth.

Programs are made possible with support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the City of Detroit.

Photos available upon request


Shekini Jennings  (313) 494-5242
Pamela Marcil      (313) 833-7899