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On Chess: Tom Hackney exhibit opens in the chess capital of the U.S.

Chess Painting No. 2 (Duchamp vs. Crepeaux, Nice, 1925), 2009
Provided by the World Chess Hall of Fame

There is a conversation that exists between living artists and their predecessors. Marcel Duchamp, arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century and whose impact is still remarkably present today, began many of these conversations during his prolific career as both an artist and a chess player.

The World Chess Hall of Fame has facilitated a continuation of these conversations with Duchamp’s legacy during past exhibits, including Cage & Kaino: Pieces and Performances. In that exhibit, the Hall of Fame recreated the 1968 performance piece Reunion in which composer John Cage played Marcel and his wife Teeny Duchamp in a game of chess on a board that played music. Another example was the exhibition Mischief Makes a Move, which showcased the work of the brilliant New York-based artist Marcel Dzama. Duchamp’s influence permeates the artist’s lush illustrations and films.

The World Chess Hall of Fame will yet again facilitate a conversation between a living artist and the legendary master when Tom Hackney: Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp opens on May 19.

The exhibit was recently on view at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York and is Tom Hackney’s first solo show in the United States. Hackney is a young British painter who has created geometric abstractions based on the movement of pieces in games of chess.

The paintings, all created on linen, are geometric abstractions based on games played by Duchamp from the early 1920s through the 1960s. World Chess Hall of Fame Chief Curator Shannon Bailey said, “His paintings are not only visually compelling but also skillful and graceful representations of Duchamp’s historic games.” Many of the paintings are black and white with raw canvas, while others have brilliant color derived from a color-coded chess set that Duchamp designed in 1920.

The title of the exhibit references Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled, the book on endgame strategy Duchamp wrote in 1932 with Russian chess master Vitaly Halberstadt. The word “correspondence” suggests that Hackney is engaging in a conversation with Duchamp, as if the two artists are playing correspondence chess, passing their moves back and forth between time and space.

Chess Painting No. 62 (Grimme, Luuring, Ree & Krabbe vs. Duchamp, correspondence game, 1961), 2016
Credit Provided by the World Chess Hall of Fame
Chess Painting No. 62, Grimme, Luuring, Ree & Krabbe vs. Duchamp, correspondence game, 1961, 2016

Hackney himself has made mention of this saying in a 2012 interview with Aesthetica Magazine that his “work seeks to have quite a specific conversation with other artists or artworks, so it can feel like a degree of collaboration is already taking place.”

The obvious connection between painting and chess is their mutual universality—neither are exclusive to one language. Stand in front of a painting anywhere on earth and you can have a conversation with the artist. Just as you can sit across a chessboard from someone who speaks a different language, and so long as you both know how to move the pieces, a conversation can happen.

Duchamp once said about the chess/drawing connection that, “The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts, and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chessboard, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem.”

Tom Hackney: Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp opens on May 19 at 6 p.m. at the World Chess Hall of Fame, 4652 Maryland Ave. in the Central West End. The artist will share remarks at the opening reception, alongside Chief Curator Shannon Bailey. The show presents the second collaboration between the Chess Campus in St. Louis and Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York.

Brian McCulloch is a gallery attendant at the World Chess Hall of Fame. On Chess is provided by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.