Maryhill Museum will open its 2004 season on March 15 with the special exhibit It's More Than A Game: The Art of Chess Today.
Drawn from the museum's extensive collection and from the work of contemporary artists and designers, this exhibit features American chess sets and works of art made in the last 50 years that use chess as a visual metaphor.
"Since its early beginnings, the imagery of chess has been used as a symbol to represent a wide range of human thought and expression," said Colleen Schafroth, curator. "In the last 50 years a virtual explosion of artistic interpretations has brought forth a plethora of wondrous sets, paintings and sculptures with exciting, fresh concepts."
Among the many unique sets is one designed by Tim Alexander. Alexander makes his chess pieces from objects he's found at yard sales and thrift shops. The discarded odds and ends are loaded with cultural information. Old toys of super heroes, outdated military figures and unstylish decorations had been turned into cultural icons. The Pawn is a subservient fodder warrior. The Knight is an off-road monster of speed and power. The Bishop guards disco treasures.
Artist Gideon Hughes of Portland, Ore., uses plumbing pieces and ceramic tiles to fabricate his chess pieces. One set by Gene Zelazny is made from salt shakers, while the king in Stephen Pettengill's set stands over 4-feet tall.
Visitors to the museum are invited to celebrate the opening of its new exhibits on Saturday, March 20, at 1 p.m. by joining Schafroth for a walk through the exhibit.
"Exploring the art of chess is a wonderful way to learn about history and world cultures," she said.
Schafroth is also author of two books about chess sets, The Art of Chess, and Sculptures in Miniature: Chess Sets from the Maryhill Museum of Art.
In conjunction with the exhibit is a display of chess sets created by children. The title, Candy, Clay & Crayons, refers to the uninhibited playfulness of the designs as well as the unusual materials used to fabricate the pieces. This is the sixth edition of this popular exhibit so the themes chosen for each set are very adventurous. They range from "Woof, Woof vs. Meow, Meow" to "Chao vs. Sonic."
The permanent collection of unique and unusual chess sets at Maryhill Museum had its origins in an exhibition held at the museum in 1957 and developed by Clifford Dolph, the museum's first director.
"The success of that exhibition was astonishing," said Schafroth. "Indeed, the decision to develop a permanent collection of chess sets at Maryhill was made as a direct result of the popularity of that exhibit."
There are nearly 100 sets from the museum's permanent collection also on display in the museum's Chess Set Gallery.
Interest in chess pieces as works of art grew steadily through the 20th century. In fact, an unexpected number of contemporary artists created sets including Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst.
Coincidentally the art world's interest in the game came at a time when there was a rising popular interest in championship play that culminated with the infamous match between the American Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky in 1972.
Included in It's More Than A Game: The Art of Chess Today are works by Steven Addams, Tim Alexander, Fritz Eichenberg, Gideon Hughes, Amen Irving, Richard Kaisch, Louise McDowell, Dede KcKay, Kim Murton, Charles Perry, Dennis Peterson, Stephen Pettengill, George Ratkai, Rima, Richard Quigley and Gene Zelazny.
Eichenberg (1901-1990) is world renowned as a master printmaker. His wood engraving of two men playing chess embodies the very best of that time-honored art technique.
McKay and Quigley use a surrealistic approach to create their paintings inspired by chess. McKay's painting, The Next Move, sets a solitary figure on a giant chess board in an isolated landscape, while in Quigley's colorful painting, the chess pieces seem to come to life in a circus-like setting.
Also opening with Maryhill's new season is the 2004 Outdoor Sculpture Invitational. It features recent large scale sculptures by 14 contemporary Northwest artists, many of whom will be on hand to talk with visitors on March 20.
The museum will also inaugurate a new gallery on that day to spotlight its most recent acquisitions including an American Indian stone sculpture gifted to the museum by the Mary Hoyt Stevenson Foundation and photography by Native American artist Chuck Williams gifted by Mary Schlick of Mt. Hood.
The museum has reinstalled three popular sets from its Theatre de la Mode collection. The sets include 41 French fashion ensembles from 1946. One set was designed by famed Parisian Jean Cocteau.