19th century Bengali craftspeople found an export market in Britain for decorative chess sets carved from ivory.
The two sides were sometimes carved to represent opposing armies of local soldiers and Europeans. The example seen here, with relatively simple carving is unusual as signs of wear and repair suggest it was used for playing games rather than as a showpiece for display. Hand-carving has produced variation even between pawns of the same side.
Photographed in the British Galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
This elaborate automaton is a reproduction of the original Chess Player (The Turk) built by Hungarian author and inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen. Touted as an android that could defeat chess masters, von Kempelen’s famed illusion debuted at the court of Empress Maria Theresa during wedding celebrations for her daughter in 1769. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Chess Player (known in its time as The Turk for its robes and turban) won games against Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin. When Napoleon Bonaparte tried to cheat, The Turk wiped all the pieces from the chessboard. In reality, a chess master would hide inside the lefthand cupboard.
The mysterious machine sparked discussions of the possibilities and limits of artificial intelligence, and it inspired development of the power loom, the telephone, and the computer. The original and its secrets were destroyed in a fire in 1854. This reproduction is by American magician, John Gaughan.
Photographed as part of the exhibit Making Marvels at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For Venezuelan artist Antonieta Sosa, Ajedrez Visual(Visual Chess), 1965, was “like my spinal column or my umbilical cord, uniting me to painting.” Scattered pops of color interrupt the regularity of the black grid, animating it with the playful movement suggested by the work’s title.
At times, these contrasting hues prompt an optical flickering or afterimage. To Sosa, such retinal effects underscore vision as a dynamic physiological process. Thus, Visual Chess foreshadows her eventual decisions to “come down from the wall” to engage with real space and bodies in the form of sculpture, performance and installations.
Even if you’re a jaded art scenester who thinks he’s seen every kind of art on the planet, I’d venture a guess that you’ve not seen anything like the sculptures of Stephanie Lempert that make up Reconstructed Reliquaries; the latest exhibit at Claire Oliver Gallery in Chelsea. For Reconstructed Reliquaries, Lempert interviewed close to 100 people from all walks of life, exploring the rationale behind the reasons certain memories stay with us and why we form attachments to particular objects. Lempert has created a truly unique way to explore the intertwined nature of cherished mementos and the childhood reminiscences that make them precious. The Artist consolidates the narratives held in the memory of the storytellers and connects them to a single inanimate object that they hold dear. Known primarily as a photographer and video artist, Lempert takes the next logical step in her studio practice by incorporating three-dimensional works to consolidate her concepts.
The artist realized the sculptures for Reconstructed Reliquaries by adding on thin layer by thin layer of nylon-based plastic, creating a work of art that is only recently technologically possible. Using a three-dimensional stereoscopic printing process, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Lempert uses the actual handwriting of the storytellers to create the sculpture itself; the subjects’ own words make their memories tangible objects. Infusing these icons with human emotions, Lempert weaves stories, literally and figuratively reconstructing memories in such a way as to create a repository for the next generation’s hopes and dreams; the sculpture she has created becomes the touchstones of the very words they embrace.
Reconstructed Reliquaries consists of fifteen sculptures including a kitchen knife, a birdcage, chess board, globe and a plush bunny, among others. The full scale chess board tells the story of a man who, as a little boy, spent summers with his beloved grandfather. The grandfather taught him to play chess and, year by year, the boy grew in his abilities until the day he could beat his grandfather at the game. It was a very proud day for both of them. Another sculpture, a size 8 stiletto pump, tells the story of a little girl looking up at her beautiful mother getting ready to go out to a party. The child could not wait for the day that she herself would be allowed to wear such amazing shoes; they would make her graceful, sexy, statuesque and so powerful.
I imagine anyone would have a very personal experience looking at these beautiful objects and wondering about the life of the person whose words and memories helped to create them. Do make a point to see Reconstructed Reliquaries before it closes on May 7, 2011.
Claire Oliver Gallery is Located at 513 West 26th Street, New York City. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM.