Film & video

7 References to the Art World in Squid Game

From Edvard Munch to Judy Chicago, discover the well-known artworks that inspired the creators of Squid Game

With a storyline that's hard to ignore, the Korean series that premiered just over a month ago on Netflix has become a global phenomenon. The controversial analysis, social commentary, and reviews around Squid Game have come thick and fast, opening up endless ways to interpret the series and better understand it.

Beyond the socio-political criticism of Korean society that many authors claim is central to the series, Squid Game is a visual spectacle no matter where you look.

With its sets, performances, cinematography, and special effects, the series manages to stand out, creating an atmosphere that combines the perverse with the childish, creating spaces and scenes that are difficult to forget. Plus, nods to behind-the-scenes artwork, architectural buildings, and artistic culture reveal the directors' creative inspirations.

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Squid Game has become the most watched series on Netflix.

The following works of art, architecture, and pop culture will help you delve into the symbolism and references scattered throughout this popular series and understand the origins behind some of the show's most iconic scenes.

Don't worry, there are no spoilers on this list...

1. The Scream by Edvard Munch

One of the most obvious artistic references in Squid Game comes in the first episode when the bloody games start taking place. Echoing Norwegian painter and printmaker Edvard Munch's artwork, The Scream, the series recreates the androgynous figure's expression of anguish, setting the tone for what's to come.

About the work: an iconic Expressionist painting, The Scream was a testimony to Munch's own anxiety. The despair, anguish, and fear featured in this painting reflect the human condition, with the visibly distressed figure in the foreground, only enhanced by the crooked forms in the background and the use of a reddish palette.

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This scene represents one of the most obvious art references in Squid Game.

2. Relativity by M.C. Escher

One of the recurrent themes through the series is a staircase that appears to have no logical sense. Players walk through it to reach new challenges and then return to the common room. The design is reminiscent of Relativity, a lithographic work by Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, in which anonymous, identically dressed figures are depicted wandering through an illogical world that defies gravity. Here, the stairs become a labyrinth rather than a pathway leading to a specific place.

About the work: without adhering to any artistic movement of his time, Escher created different works where geometry, perspective, and science are reimagined to develop worlds that escape physical laws. A follower of French philosopher Albert Camus, Escher said that the stairs represented a pessimistic and profound element in his works. He was alluding to the fact that often we believe we're being led to a higher place when perhaps we're not going anywhere.

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The elaborate stairs are another reference to a work of art.

3. La Muralla Roja by Ricardo Bofill

If Escher's work was the inspiration for the structure of the stairs, Spanish postmodernist architect Ricardo Bofill was undoubtedly the primary guide for color and design. His housing project La Muralla Roja (The Red Wall) bears a remarkable similarity to the stair room in the series, both representing a labyrinthine structure and a utopian aesthetic.

About the work: built in the Spanish city of Calpe (Alicante), the monumental building is located on the edge of a cliff giving the appearance of a fort. In this photographed construction, Bofill pays tribute to Arabic architectural traditions by using structures similar to a kasbah – distinctive fortifications in countries such as Morocco.

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The work of Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill is depicted in the popular Korean series.

4. The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

One of the most chilling scenes in the series takes place at a triangular table where the remaining players are invited to dinner. It's impossible not to compare the large triangular-shaped table and white tablecloths to painter and writer Judy Chicago's famous artwork, The Dinner Party. One of the pioneers of American feminist art in the '70s, Chicago created a large installation to give a voice to the long list of women who contributed to the history of humankind across various areas and disciplines.

About the work: exhibited in 1979, Chicago's installation is set on a vast triangular table with 39 place settings and specific dishes that celebrate various women who made history. Additionally, 999 women's names were inscribed on the porcelain base that supports the table.

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"The Dinner Party" by Judy Chicago in 'Squid Game'.

5. The Empire of Light by René Magritte

One of the more obvious artistic references made by the series' director Hwang Dong-hyuk is undoubtedly to the works of Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. In a scene in the second episode, various books and paintings by Magritte are visible, including one of his most iconic paintings, The Empire of Light, in which Magritte incorporates two opposites: day and night.

About the work: One of the most influential artists of the Surrealist movement, René Magritte was drawn to visual concepts that resulted in an oxymoron. In the case of this piece, the night in the lower half works in contrast to the lit-up sky in the top half. The image of the lantern illuminating the darkness was also used in the film The Exorcist by William Friedkin.

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There are also references to works by Belgian Surrealist painter, René Magritte.

6. Hegel's Holiday by René Magritte

Confirming the director's deep admiration for Magritte, Hwang doesn't miss the opportunity for another nod to the Belgian surrealist artist with Hegel's Holiday.

Magritte's famed umbrella makes an appearance in one of the series' most famous scenes, where the contestants are given Dalgona candy as part of a challenge. We won't tell you why, but the Dalgona is a key factor in causing high levels of distress.

About the work: Magritte constantly created contradictions in his paintings, seeking to relate opposing concepts or objects in absurd ways. In this case, the idea was born from the artist's idea to present a glass of water in a way that it would not become "indifferent" to viewers. By incorporating an umbrella (an object that typically repels water), Magritte gave the glass of water visual power by creating a visual oxymoron.

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"Hegel's Holiday" by René Magritte as represented in a scene from "Squid Game".

7. The Rothschild Surrealist Ball

In addition to being one of the wealthiest families in the world, the Rothschilds were known for hosting one of the most extravagant and infamous parties in the world. With guests such as Catalan painter Salvador Dalí and actress Audrey Hepburn, this European dynasty of Judeo-German origin brought together the world's wealthiest and most influential people for a surreal party that sparked everything from conspiracy theories to urban legends. The extravagance and waste of one of the key scenes in the series directly reference the unbridled power of the elites at this event.

About the event: held in 1972 in the luxurious Château Ferrières (France), the party is widely recognized as one of the most extravagant in the history of the last century. Guests had to wear animal masks, and the waiting staff was dressed as felines. In popular culture, the event transcended beyond a party supposedly as an Illuminati and satanic celebration.

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A nod to the extravagant Rothschild Surrealist Ball.

Undoubtedly, Squid Game will continue to be discussed for a while to come, given the many levels of interpretation and the universe of symbols seeded throughout. If you haven't seen it yet, we recommend keeping an eye out for new references as you watch.

English version by @acesarato.

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