Tom Hackney Show Opens at World Chess Hall of Fame

Chess Painting No. 62  (Grimme, Luuring, Ree & Krabbe vs. Duchamp, correspondence game, 1961), 2016British Artist Tom Hackney Debuts New Exhibit of Paintings at the World Chess Hall of Fame
Exhibition opens Thursday, May 19 and runs through Sept. 11, 2016

In his series of chess paintings, British artist Tom Hackney translates the chess games of influential artist and self-avowed chess fanatic Marcel Duchamp into vivid geometric abstractions.

Also on view will be 18 photographs, periodicals, works of art, and pieces of ephemera related to Duchamp’s legacy in chess from the World Chess Hall of Fame permanent collection and various private collections.

Join us for the opening reception, which will include welcome remarks by Shannon Bailey, World Chess Hall of Fame Chief Curator, at 6:30 p.m. followed by brief comments by the artist.

What: Opening Reception – Tom Hackney: Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp
Who: Tom Hackney, artist
Shannon Bailey, Chief Curator
When: Thursday, May 19th
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Where: World Chess Hall of Fame
4652 Maryland Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63108
Why: Celebration and opening reception for Tom Hackney: Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp, an exhibit that comes to the World Chess Hall of Fame from Francis M. Naumann Fine Art in New York.

For more information, contact Cabanne Howard at (314) 518-7225.

Comments

  1. Having seen Mr Hackney’s chess paintings, of 2009, at the London Art Fair in 2014, my attention was inevitably caught by Brian McCulloch’s notice on the St Louis Public Radio Blog concerning the opening of the artist’s current show at the World Chess Hall of Fame, recently transferred from a shrine to Saint Marcel in New York City.
    The interview with the artist conducted by Lesley Guy, published in In Focus on the occasion of the London exhibition, informed the reader that Mr Hackney’s interest in chess derives from three sources, his introduction to the game as a child, which sparked an enduring interest in logic, his subsequent introduction, at Goldsmiths’ College, London, to a “strategic approach to art making and discourse” which is popularly understood to have been largely attributable to Mr Hackney’s exemplar, Marcel Duchamp, and his “fascination” with Duchamp’s popularly imagined “renouncement” of art for chess.
    That Duchamp had renounced art – but not for chess – in 1912 was not popularly understood at Goldsmiths when Mr Hackney studied there any more than it is now: nor is, or was, the reason for Duchamp’s embrace of competitive chess – unsuccessfully – in the 1920: this was for the same reason that everybody else did -hopefully to earn a living.

    Lesley Guy’s interview reveals that Mr Hackney’s paintings are based on specific chess games that Duchamp had played, whose individual moves determined the lineaments of compositions completely worked out before the works themselves were executed, their colour schemes based on a chess set that Duchamp described in a letter written in the 1920s. In the Britain in which I grew up this activity was popularly enjoyed under the rubric of Painting by Numbers. His results are considered by the artist to belong not to the history of chess so much as that of abstract painting. Accordingly, only a chess grandmaster, (a status not enjoyed by Duchamp,) or an “experienced” player, might, according to Mr Hackney, “have the means to access or interpret the content” of the paintings (indexically, it would seem,) an insight denied the mere art historian thereby reduced to other strategies circumscribed by “context to the material,” which the paintings “inhabit and dramatise.” Where this leaves the average art lover, or mere critic such as Lesley Guy, is not clarified in the interview. But according to Mr Hackney’s rationale it would appear that Joe Public is condemned merely to enjoy the shapes and colours of his paintings as best they might, which might be as good a raison d’être for their existence as any. But since Joe and Josephine have no way of telling merely from looking at the paintings what they might actually purport to be about, they are consequently denied any insight into precisely what they need to know, either about chess or Duchamp, in order to understand how the form of the work articulates the instantiation of its ostensible content.
    What Joe and Josephine don’t know they’re missing was discussed in an article published some forty years ago in the January/February 1975 issue of Studio International, in which Ralph Rumney interviewed an old chess sparring partner of Duchamp, Francois le Lionnnais. Born in 1901, the latter was typical of the type of individual whose company Duchamp enjoyed: Lionnais was, in turn, a construction engineer working on telephone cables, chief engineer at the French Ministry of Works, director of General Studies at the École Supérieure, Head of Education and Science Department at Unesco, scientific adviser to the New Larousse Dictionary, a member of the scientific committee at Radiofusion Television Francaise, and scientific consultant in the French Section at the Montreal World Exhibition. He was also an adviser to the French national commission at Unesco, and a member of the committee for the restoration of works of art in French national museums. He was the author of many scientific books […] and a contributor to L’Encyclopedie Francaise. His books on chess are well known.
    Lionnais had defeated Duchamp in a published chess game in 1932, having got to know him through Dada circles in the 1920s. In response to Rumsey’s question: “ Could you describe Duchamp’s qualities as a player?” Lionnais responded as follows.

    […] in his style of play I saw no trace of […] a dada or anarchist style, though this is perfectly possible. To bring dada ideas to chess one would have to be a chess genius rather than a dada genius. In my opinion, Nimzovitch, a great chess player, was a dadaist before Dada. But he knew nothing of Dada. He introduced an anticonformism of apparently stupid ideas which won. For me that’s real Dada. I don’t see this dada aspect in Duchamp’s style. What I did find was considerable honesty; he was very serious and very applied […] This may have been a fundamental trait of his character, which was in fact very serious.
    It must be stressed that he represented France in the Chess Olympiads, and consequently he was always up against stronger players than himself. He was often matched against international chess players. And this prevented him from playing brilliant games. It’s easier to play brilliantly against a weaker player than a stronger. Being himself the weaker player he had to play very carefully, and this was a handicap. He played a very fine game in which he forced a draw against Marshall, who was […] a world championship candidate.

    [Note: Not recognised as a sport by the IOC until 1999, the first Olympiad was unofficial. For the 1924 Olympics an attempt was made to include chess in the Olympic Games but this failed because of problems with distinguishing between amateur and professional players. The first Team Chess Tournament coincided with the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, 12–20 July 1924, at the Hotel Majestic. The organizing committee was headed by the Frenchmen Pierre Vincent and Alexander Alekhine. Fifty-four players representing 18 countries were split into nine preliminary groups of six, the winner of each qualifying for the Championship Final while the rest joined an eight-round Swiss consolation tournament. The winner of the individual tournament earned the title of the Amateur World Champion. By most estimates, Duchamp became a player of about master strength. He competed in the 1925 French championship, reportedly scoring 50 percent, and, on the same team as Alexander Alekhine, the world champion, who was then resident in France, represented France in the 1933 chess Olympiad. Though he was often outclassed against the best players, every now and then he managed to hold his own.]
    Q: […] was he an innovator?
    Absolutely not. He applied absolutely classical principles, he was strong on theory…he’d studied chess theory in books. He was very conformist, which is an excellent way of playing. In chess, conformism is much better than anarchy unless you are a Nimzovitch, a genius. […] it is safer to be a conformist.
    Q: What exactly was Marcel Duchamp’s attitude to mathematics and science?
    […] He liked talking to people with a scientific background […] he talked about mathematics. But until the end of his life he was stuck at Henri Poincaré […] He had read a lot of books – not mathematical texts which he would not have been able to understand, but […] philosophical works.
    Q: Popular Science?
    That’s it, for instance “Science and Theory. “ That is the philosophical musings of a great mathematician, which combines philosophical and mathematical qualities.
    Q: Would you agree that in much of Duchamp’s work there is a quasi-scientific approach?
    Yes, even pseudo and quasi […] there is always the margin of error which an artist can’t avoid because his culture is inadequate, and at the same time a quality of vision which gets him through somehow. It’s probably something like love where one finds something by other methods than pure reason.

    It would seem a pity that critical insights, such as these, into Mr Hackney’s content – Duchamp’s qualities as a chess player, or indeed artist – are not available to the art going public of St Louis directly via Mr Hackney’s work: at least they’re not according to Mr Hackney. Whether or not the shade of Marcel Duchamp might enjoy a reciprocal conversation with the former through his work, as the latter allegedly does with him through his is, of course, a matter best left to mediumistic beings. It’s a pity that we all can’t, but that seems, if I read him aright, to be a privilege that Mr Hackney is keen to deny all but the grandmaster and experienced player. In its absence, it seems that all we can do is interrogate the shapes and colours.

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