By Emily Allred, Assistant Curator for the World Chess Hall of Fame
Grand Chess Tour: Art of Chess 2017 is the World Chess Hall of Fame’s (WCHOF) first traveling exhibition, created to accompany each of the stops on this year’s Grand Chess Tour. Staging a show to accompany this elite circuit of chess competitions was a natural choice for us. Since 2013, the WCHOF has created mini-exhibitions of artifacts and photography during the Sinquefield Cup at our sister organization, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL); Kingside Diner; and the WCHOF itself. For Grand Chess Tour: Art of Chess 2017, I had the great fortune to be part of a four-person team that traveled from June 19 to July 4 to install the exhibition at the Château d'Asnières in France and Leuven Town Hall in Belgium during the first two Grand Chess Tour events: Paris Grand Chess Tour and Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour. This team also included our Senior Gallery Attendant, Jesse Nenninger; Exhibitions Manager, Nick Schleicher; and the newest member of our full-time staff, Registrar, Nicole Tessmer.
As Assistant Curator, my role before the exhibition traveled was to assist in the selection of artifacts and artworks to display as well as developing label text in English, French, and Dutch for each of the pieces on view. However, during the trip to Paris and Leuven, I also got to help out with assembling displays and installing artwork and artifacts. My favorite of these “other duties as assigned” was being a gallery attendant in our temporary exhibition spaces, which allowed me to share information about our institution and artifacts with visitors. Each of the pieces included in Grand Chess Tour: Art of Chess has been displayed in Saint Louis as part of a past or current exhibition or installation; however, for most of our European visitors it was a first opportunity to see historic treasures like Bobby Fischer’s Red Book from the collection of Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield or the silver service presented to Paul Morphy for his victory in the 1857 American Chess Congress.
It was such a pleasure to talk to our visitors at each of the tournament venues and hear new perspectives on artifacts that we are so familiar with as well as their own stories about their connections to the game. Two of my favorite visitors were a woman and her five-year-old son who visited twice during the Leuven installation. She shared that not only had he taught himself to play chess, but he had also taught her! His favorite piece in the show was well-liked among many of our youngest visitors--the simple Asterix and Caesar’s Gift chess set, borrowed from our current exhibition POW! Capturing Superheroes, Chess & Comics.
It was also very exciting to see our artifacts exhibited in new venues. In Asnières-sur-Seine, we set up the exhibition in the Château d'Asnières, a castle built from 1750-52 and recently restored. The beautiful castle served not only as the setting for our exhibition but also hosted a number of other activities for people watching video of the Paris Grand Chess Tour. One of these was a youth chess tournament that took place on the lawn outside. The second venue was also historic—Leuven Town Hall. Restored following damage during World Wars I and II, the Town Hall was originally constructed in the 15th century and in the 19th century the facade was changed to add sculptures of prominent local citizens, which the city’s tourism website refers to as its “hall of fame.” When we visited M-Museum Leuven, we learned that the town hall had once hosted a collection of artifacts related to local history that later evolved into the museum. It was interesting to learn that we were far from the first to present an exhibition there. In Leuven, we shared space with spectators listening to commentary by Grandmasters Maurice Ashley and Nigel Short and the tournament itself took place upstairs.
Of course, the World Chess Hall of Fame team also spent time seeing historic sites and museums when we were not working. While visiting the Musée National Gustave Moreau, we even noticed a chess set! Can you guess what we spotted about the setup of the set? Members of the World Chess Hall of Fame staff will travel again later this year to present the exhibition during the London Chess Classic, but we will first be setting it up again in Saint Louis for the Sinquefield Cup and the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz.