Cage & Kaino: Pieces and Performances is an exhibition accompanied by rare live performances of the work of 20th-century composer John Cage and contemporary multimedia artist Glenn Kaino.
Influenced by Marcel Duchamp, Cage and Kaino each created works inspired by their fascination with chess. Cage’s classic 1968 Reunion performance uses chess play to spontaneously compose and conduct unique musical performances, while in Kaino’s 2007 Burning Boards event the chess pieces made of burning candles force thirty-two players to confront time and chance. Gallery visitors may play on a working replica of Cage’s Reunion chessboard or study Kaino’s One Hour Paintings, portraits of grandmasters that surround his monumental Learn to Win or You Will Take Losing for Granted chess board, which features pieces cast from the artist’s own hands.
About the Artists
Though not experts, both John Cage and Glenn Kaino were fascinated with chess play and drew inspiration from the work of Marcel Duchamp. They each grew up in Los Angeles and had roots in Japanese culture—Kaino, growing up in the Japanese-American community; Cage as a devoted student of Zen. Both were inventor-type creators who worked seriously in visual arts, music production, and public performance using the newest technological means available. Their performances were social opportunities to gather together the people with whom they most liked to spontaneously commune and create.
About the Curator
Larry List, Guest Curator
Larry List has researched and replicated estate-authorized versions of lost chess sets, artworks, and models by many artists. He organized both the exhibition and catalogue for The Imagery of Chess Revisited (The Noguchi Museum and The Menil Collection, 2006 – 2007). List co-curated and provided the major catalogue essay for 32 Pieces: The Art of Chess (Reykjavik Art Museum and DOX Centre of Contemporary Art, 2009) and curated Chess Masterpieces: Highlights from the Dr. George and Vivian Dean Collection (World Chess Hall of Fame, 2011 – 2012). He contributed essays to the catalogues Duchamp, Man Ray, and Picabia (The Tate Modern, 2008), as well as to Communicating Rooks: The Work of Glenn Kaino (The Andy Warhol Museum, 2008). He is currently researching works by Surrealist Man Ray, Fluxus artist Takako Saito, and Minimalist Carl Andre.
Works Featured in the Exhibition
In Learn to Win or You Will Take Losing for Granted, a giant chess board becomes either a public square or a battlefield. Though all bronze casts of the artist’s hand, one group of pieces flash hostile gestures of power, while the other group counters with peaceful signs. In his title, Kaino encourages winning, but the sculpture itself questions whether victory is best defined as the defeat of someone else or the reconciliation of opposing sides. “Take losing for granted” implies resignation—an acceptance that differences or difficulties cannot be resolved.
King: Peace symbol
Queen: Promise (fingers-crossed) symbol
Bishop: “Live long and prosper” symbol, which originated on the television show Star Trek
Knight: Shaka, or symbol for “hang loose”
Rook: E.T. phone home symbol, which originated from the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Pawn: Thumbs-up symbol
King: Fist symbol
Queen: Gun symbol
Bishop: Middle finger symbol
Knight: Los Angeles gang “pitchfork” symbol
Rook: The Claw symbol, which can be seen in classic kung fu films
Pawn: Noogie symbol
Timed by a chess clock, Kaino painted grandmasters past and present, young and old, male and female, each in the span of one hour. The collection of portraits alternately suggests an audience awaiting an upcoming match or chess’s extended family from the past to the present. The players appear to gaze down at the board for Learn to Win or You Will Take Losing for Granted, as if in contemplation of past wins, losses, and lessons learned.
Intrigued by the game since his teen years, Kaino’s most highly prized possessions are poet May Swenson’s chess set and board that had been used by artist and chess master Marcel Duchamp and the rare book of endgames, L’Opposition et les cases conjuguées sont réconciliées (Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled) written by Duchamp.
Used in the 2010 performance of Reunion in Toronto, Canada, media artist Rob Cruickshank created this electronic chess board based on Lowell Cross’s original schematic plans. John Cage aspired to listen to everyday sounds as music and to enjoy everyday life as an art form. The stage environments of the two Toronto performances of Reunion and this installation evoke the homey informality of Cage’s chess lessons at Marcel and Teeny Duchamp’s apartment, complete with kitchen table, wine, and ashtrays. You are invited to sit here, as Cage and Duchamp did at a similar table, to create a unique piece of music by playing a game of chess.
Serving as the centerpiece of the 1968 Reunion performances, this electronic chess board randomly played selections of music as chess pieces were moved. Cage enlisted the assistance of Lowell Cross, then a Ph.D. candidate in electronic music at the University of Toronto, to design and build this chessboard. Impressed with Cross’s work, Cage invited him to participate in the Reunion performances, once as his opponent and two times as a musical performer.
John Cage’s unfinished 1943 score for Chess Pieces demonstrates the artist’s early interest in the game. A year later he completed an intricate painting with the same title, which he showed in the Imagery of Chess exhibition organized by Marcel Duchamp at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. The painting contained a complete musical score, which is presented in this sheet music.
From 1965–1968 Cage took private lessons twice a week from Marcel and Alexina “Teeny” Duchamp. Ever after, Cage had a chess set and board ready for play at his loft and, when touring, he always packed a traveling set. From late 1977, until his death, Cage played daily at 5 p.m. with two other good friends, the artists William Anastasi and Dove Bradshaw.
In 1968, all “advanced” sound-generating instruments were analog. Experimental musicians, such as David Behrman, Lowell Cross, Gordon Mumma, and David Tudor needed thorough knowledge of electronics as well as music theory to perform complex pieces like Reunion. To “sample” a sound, they would tape record it in advance, then alter the taped sound electronically in concert. They often kept their inventions secret and modified their set-ups frequently, always searching for “new sounds” to broaden the definition of music. The four tables in this gallery display likely set-ups of circa 1968 analog equipment.
John Cage (left), Alexina “Teeny” Duchamp (center), and Marcel Duchamp play chess surrounded by photographers, filmmakers, and sound engineers. Footage of the event would later be shown on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s program The Day It Is, which prefaced its broadcast with a warning that the events depicted were “unusual.”
Marcel Duchamp and John Cage, 1972
Black and white and color film, sound
Collection of World Chess Hall of Fame, Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix
Shigeko Kubota was an early member of the Fluxus art group in New York in the 1960s. The ideas of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage inspired Fluxus artists, who embraced chance operation and audience participation in their artwork. Kubota took a large number of documentary photographs of the Toronto 1968 Reunion. In 1972, using her still photos and Cage recordings as source material, Kubota created this piece, which applies to the video medium the same intense technological experimentation and risk-taking embraced by Cage and his fellow musicians, pushing the photo images to the furthest reaches of abstraction.
Illustrated in Lowell Cross’s 1999 article recounting Reunion, this schematic shows the internal circuitry of the 1968 electronic chess board. His diagrams explain that each square is inset with one of two kinds of photo-resistor “switches,” which are sensitive to light. When a chess piece is moved off a square in one of the two outermost opposing rows, it turns on a channel of music to be played. Conversely, in any of the four central rows, music is turned on when a piece is moved onto a square and is shut off again when the piece is removed. Thus a unique combination of sound layers will build and recede in the course of each game.
Oscilloscope imaging of stereo audio track of electronic music originally projected for Reunion, Ryerson Theatre, Toronto, March 5, 1968
Courtesy of the artist
Telequipment Oscilloscope D61
10 . x 6 . x 16 . inches
Courtesy of Kenneth R. Heitmueller
With training in physics, art history, and music, Lowell Cross created Video II(B) as a piece that incorporated a visual expression of music. Using a modified black-and-white television, Cross made an oscilloscope, which made patterns on a screen in synchronization with electronic music that he had composed. Performed as part of the Reunion event, the oscilloscope created images as Cage and the Duchamps played chess.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
The Day it Is, April 18, 1968
20 minute televised video feature
©1968 Canadian Broadcasting CorporationAll rights reserved
This Canadian Broadcasting Corporation public television feature about the Toronto Reunion event conveys the relatively staid social milieu in which Cage was presenting his radical performances. The stacks of electronic components and maze of cables and wires hints at the labor-intensive nature of pre-digital, non-acoustic, experimental music. Among the myriad details, musician Gordon Mumma is shown “sampling,” pre-tape-recording sounds made with a concertina and a French horn fit with an oboe reed for later electronic modification during the performance.
The tone of this CBC TV feature was one of measured respect and curiosity, though the newspaper reviews in each city were more caustic. Foreseeing initial audience reactions, Cage didn’t “require that they be interested.”
7/31/14: St. Louis Jewish Light — Exhibit features portraits of chess grandmasters, by Sarah Weinman
7/5/14: Chess24 — Chess and Art A Tempo, by Macauley Peterson
5/9/14: ArtDaily.org — “Cage and Kaino: Pieces and Performances” opens at the World Chess Hall of Fame
5/8/14: St. Louis Public Radio — On Chess: New Shows At World Chess Hall of Fame Include Burning Boards, by Brian Jerauld
5/7/14: Central West End Guide — Always a surprise at the World Chess Hall of Fame, by Nicki Dwyer
5/6/14: CWE Scene — Two Great Exhibits Opening at the World Chess Hall of Fame
5/5/14: Digital Journal — World Chess Hall of Fame Debuts Two Groundbreaking Exhibitions
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5/5/14: eTurboNews — World Chess Hall of Fame debuts two groundbreaking exhibitions
5/5/14: US News Online — World Chess Hall of Fame Debuts Two Groundbreaking Exhibitions May 8
5/5/14: World News — World Chess Hall of Fame Debuts Two Groundbreaking Exhibitions May 8
5/2/14: The United States Chess Federation — World Chess Hall of Fame Opens Two New Shows