That’s not a giraffe standing near the sidewalk just east of Euclid on Maryland. It’s the world’s largest chess piece and about the size of a female giraffe. Central West End regulars know this “greeter” at the World Chess Hall of Fame.
Over 50 various-sized television monitors now fill the hall of fame’s front windows. All playing the same images, they form a video installation — the central piece of the first floor exhibition, “Marcel Dzama: Mischief Makes a Move,” and one of three currently on display there.
If you’re visiting with children, you might be on guard with the Dzama show and go directly up the stairs to exhibitions on the second and third floors. But we’ll get to those.
Dzama, a mid-career Canadian-born artist now living in New York, has exhibited internationally and is in several important collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Tate Gallery in London.
The artist explores Dadaist themes. His prints, sculptures and drawings make allusion to works by Joseph Beuys, Francisco Goya and others. But the show also can be seen as a deep bow to another Marcel. I’m referring, of course, to artist Marcel Duchamp, the master of all master Dadaists, who spent most of his later life playing chess.
The guard-your-children dioramas are actually rather tame in these trashy Internet days, and they present the artist working out themes in a three-dimensional story-board way, with major ideas presented in his centerpiece video.
All the displayed artworks by Dzama are related to a 35-minute silent film titled “Une Danse des Bouffons” (A Jester’s Dance). This black and white film imagines the failed romantic affair between Duchamp and Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins.
The many references to art history, artists and various periods will intrigue, frighten, amuse and confuse — at the same time. But logic is not Dzama’s game. It’s more “let’s play” and ask questions about love, relationships, obsessions and reality today; let’s move the time-line from these Surrealist beginnings in the early 20th century, when the representations may not have been so close to today. This video is almost a reality show of the 21st century. View it before you eat lunch — as it may not be your, so to speak, cup of tea.
In the second floor gallery, “Encore! Ivory Chess Treasures from the Jon Crumiller Collection” are antique ivory masterpieces from one of the world’s top collectors. These rare sets, boards and tables — over 2,500 individual items — have not been exhibited for many years. And the current consciousness about ivory elicits uneasy feelings for many viewers.
Vintage chess pieces, photographs, prints and artifacts are part of the third floor exhibition, “Battle on the Board: Chess during World War II,” which looks at chess and war through the lens of World War II. This exhibit’s show-stopper is a chess set carved by an American lieutenant prisoner-of-war, held at Stalag Luft I, a POW camp near Barth, Germany.
After seeing the second and third floors, you might return to the Dzama show and watch the moves made by Duchamp, playing against a grandmaster, in a wall video. That game ends in a draw. Not so for these three exhibitions. You will walk away with either a win or lose view. For me, a lover of both chess and art history, this is a win.
“Marcel Dzama: Mischief Makes a Move” and “Encore! Ivory Chess Treasures from the Jon Crumiller Collection” are both on display through Oct. 18. “Battle on the Board: Chess during World War II” runs through Jan. 17. For more information on the exhibits and the World Chess Hall of Fame, visit worldchesshof.org.