Museum InfoMedia Room

DIA exterior at night
DIA exterior at night

Last Chance to See Rare, Unusual, and Exquisite Chess Sets at Detroit Institute of Arts - Master Pieces: Chess Sets from the Dr. George and Vivian Dean Collection ends May 17

Monday, April 27, 2009

April 27, 2009 (Detroit)—Don’t forfeit your chance to see a one-of-a-kind exhibition of more than two dozen exquisite chess sets ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Master Pieces: Chess Sets from the Dr. George and Vivian Dean Collection is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) only through May 17. The exhibition is free with museum admission.

Incredibly detailed pieces and boards are made of materials that include silver, gold, diamonds, rubies, jade, amber, ivory, porcelain, velvet and silk. Motifs run from the whimsical, such as Sea Life featuring lobsters and seahorses, and the Insect set, with butterflies and grasshoppers, to the elegant Amber Chess Set and Board made for Catherine the Great, and the exquisitely crafted Chinese Ball-on-Ball Chess Set.

Several sets illustrate ideological oppositions and classic rivalries, such as Good vs. Evil, Communists vs. Capitalists, Africans vs. Europeans, and German vs. French. While it is not known who made many of older sets, modern sets were created by artists Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray.

George Dean, a physician who owned practices in Redford and Southfield, Michigan, said he and his wife, Vivian, began collecting chess sets during a trip to the Middle East in 1962. Vivian fell in love with a silver and gold chess set made by a Yemeni craftsman, and 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 Fabergé chess set ever made.

This exhibition has been generously supported by Dr. George and Vivian Dean.

Hours and admission:

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 5 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 visit


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.

Contact: Pamela Marcil 313-833-7899