Friday 24 June 2016

Hackney Seen in St.Louis, Etc.

[This post by Martin Smith]

To borrow a phrase: this is not an orange...

I encountered said not orange some weeks ago at Tate Britain when looking for some chess-art here:

We have talked before on the blog about Conceptual Art, most notably in our discussions of Tom Hackney's work (of which more below), not to mention that of Marcel Duchamp (who pretty much invented the genre when he went "non-retinal"). So, I felt optimistic and ready for the fray...

There was no chess. There were plenty of oranges. Mine came from a pile of approx 5,800.

Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges), 1967 
Roelof Louw b.1936 
It is pretty much the first thing that you see in the exhibition, though there weren't many left when I got there, just the remains of the base layer... and even that may have disappeared by now. Visitors may remove one (but only one - and from the top, as the caption sensibly adds) for personal use (but not in the gallery).

Mine was one from over there on the left, and thus did I make my modest contribution to the evolution of the work, and its extinction. The point - I'm thinking - must be to get us to reflect on essence and substance, permanence and transition, permission and choice, the boundaries of an art-work, and the sly efficacy of salami-tactics. 

Conceptual Art, the Tate's commentary tells us, is about reading, not looking. In among all the reading matter there is - as if to provide some light relief - Keith Arnatt's eye-catching, and self-explanatory, disappearing act (from 1969, see pics below). That's also him, by the way, "eating his own words" in the Tate banner above.

Self Burial (In Nine Stages), 1969
Keith Arnatt (1930-2008)
By coincidence (presumably), the Tate has another show downstairs: "Painting With Light: Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Modern Age", which is a kind of prequel in the conceptual art/photography dialectic going on upstairs in Arnatt's pieces. "Painting With Light" was also worth a visit (but no chess here either) even if its methodology (compare and contrast a painting with a contemporaneous photo), though illuminating for the most part, felt over-exposed by the end.

As for Conceptual Art - "read, don't look" - it can seem wilfully obscure, as if written not in Plain English but hieroglyphs from somewhere else. The same could be said for some non-Conceptual Art, but that would be a known unknown, and we might savour the challenge. With Conceptual Art it's the unknown unknown that infuriates.

For all that, the exhibition is decidedly worth a look - and also for the history lesson about a key moment in British Art, a moment that propels us forward to some actual chess-in-art currently on show in the US: Tom Hackney's Corresponding Squares exhibition at the St. Louis World Chess Hall of Fame. As we know - because he has, with great patience and lucidity explained it to us - his work has a serious, and fascinating, "conceptual" base, but the look-at-able superstructure is what seduces most of us: the rigorous crystalline grids of his Duchamp chess-game series.

Gallery views at St.Louis of Corresponding Squares 
- with thanks for pics to WCHoF and Michael Delippo 
Above are views of Tom's current exhibition. At last his single-minded project - to make an art-work from each of the published chess games of Duchamp - is getting the recognition it deserves in the most prestigious centres of Duchampian art and chess culture. In the chess-art world he goes from ought to be better known to so much better known now.

Tom's work is the subject of some extremely helpful and insightful commentaries from the curators of the US exhibitions; in addition anyone close-by over there in the States will have the opportunity to hear Tom himself speaking at St.Louis on August 10th at 6.30pm. But for readers this side of the pond, I asked Tom a few questions about his US experiences, and he kindly took time out from his Atlantic-hopping to answer. First then, a progress report:
"To date I have made around 80 paintings based on the scores of approximately 60 games - some games have been painted in both colour and black and white - and I am about half way through the scores that I have collected. I was fortunate to find 6 new unarchived games on a recent visit to the Duchamp archive at the Phildelphia Museum of Art, and other new scores continue to be unearthed, so as this archive grows so will the series"
...and some reflections on showing so many of the paintings all together:
"Corresponding Squares is the first time I've exhibited the chess paintings as a body of work. It's a good time and place to do it for many reasons. I have been working on the series since late 2008...and it very gradually developed to a point where I felt ready to show a large group of them together...there's a sense that they are all parts of a larger sequence, and so in that way they don't feel repetitive. There is an autonomy to the paintings that's outside of my control so I don't really think about it in terms of completion...The series now has its own momentum - I see new facets of the work and this then feeds back into how I approach making the paintings." 
Chess Painting No. 79 (Duchamp vs. Rozic, Paris 1924), 2016
[In the exhibition] © Tom Hackney 
And isn't having two exhibitions in the States quite something? (The first exposure was at Francis M. Naumann Fine Arts in New York.)
"Yes, absolutely. It's exciting in lots of ways - working alongside Francis, Shannon and Bradley [see explanatory note], and meeting people from the Duchamp world and the chess world has been great. To show the work in New York has a particular significance with Duchamp's connection to the city, plus the legacy of abstract painting,  and the World Chess Hall of Fame, with their remit of exploring the intersection of art and chess makes it possible to open out the work in a different way. Exhibiting alongside the Duchamp works [i.e. others already in the collections - MS] is very special."
"The St. Louis exhibition is on a bigger scale than anything I've worked on before in lots of ways. I've been fortunate to meet several Grandmasters and to get to know people from the St. Louis chess community and they have been very enthusiastic and supportive about my work. It is fascinating to be able to talk and gain insights into things that interest me such as the cognitive aspect of chess."       
And I couldn't resist asking Tom about his own game - he had played a bit as a junior:
"I'm teaching my eldest daughter who will be 7 in July. She really enjoys the game, is picking it up very quickly and will no doubt soon be beating me. I'm also playing a correspondence game by post with a friend in Ireland, currently progressing very slowly as to be moving backwards. I definitely look forward to playing more often having gained a deeper appreciation of the game from this work."       
Good luck, Tom!

Next visit: the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. If there is any chess-in-art there, I'll let you know.

Francis M. Naumann and Bradley Bailey are the authors of the well-known Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess (2009) readymade press (New York); and Shannon Bailey is Chief Curator at St.Louis World Chess Hall of Fame.

Single orange (but not just any orange; it's the very one from the exhibition) pic by MS.
Previous Tom Hackney-related posts:
It's The Thought That Counts
He Might Not Have been Amused IX
Hackney in Clerkenwell
Hackney Seen in Clerkenwell 
Hackney Seen Again in Clerkenwell
Nette and Tom (and Diana Makes Three)
Chess Art in Our Time
Hackney Seen in New York

Chess in Art Index in another place.

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