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"Screwed Moves"

Artists Create Murals At World Chess Hall Of Fame

One of nine artists from the Screwed Arts Collective works to complete a mural on one of four walls at the World Chess Hall of Fame, located in the Central West End. photos by Dickson Beall and Jordan Gaunce (click for larger version)
October 10, 2012
For two weeks, nine artists camped out in the World Chess Hall of Fame and painted. They call themselves the Screwed Arts Collective.

The nine guys, who like to hang together and drink a little whiskey and beer, brushed all four walls — floor to ceiling — with chessboard colors, black and white. And, ask any player, chess isn't always just a game. So blood-red spills onto these walls – along with some earthy ochre and burnt sienna.

Bryan Walsh organized Screwed Moves, and is one of the nine artists, who also include: Daniel Burnett, Stan Chisholm, Daniel Jefferson, Chris Harris, Christopher Burch, Justin Tolentino, Kris Mosby and Jason Spencer.

Aisle 1 Gallery, in the Cherokee Street Arts District, is currently showing the work of Spencer and will host a solo exhibition of Walsh's work, opening in November. The individual works of each of the nine artists are, actually, more accomplished than is this collective.

The game of chess started in India, before the sixth century, and has elements of infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry. The pawns, knights, bishops and rooks may have changed characteristics during the Middle Ages in Europe. But, even today, the themes of the game remain the same, with the objective to checkmate the king!

Winning requires careful thinking, building a strategy, and then creating tactical moves that the opponent may very well see — but can do nothing about. Much of that complexity is what is missing from this exhibition.

Panorama photo by Dickson Beall and Jordan Gaunce. (click for larger version)
What this show could have been didn't quite happen. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed looking at all four walls, the walled cities, the war-torn walls and the hole in the wall that the rabbit goes down. I overheard several visitors on opening night say that the show was fun. And it was. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and there's nothing wrong with that. The show might even make one of those "best of" lists that we all love to read.

Supposedly, by moving clockwise around the room, there's a progression from ancient times to the present day, from order to chaos. As the artists approach the present century, there's an acceleration of violence, from hand-to-hand combat on the ground, to missile forces in the air.

The process that this collective followed is something like improvisational jazz, with some overlapping passages more effective than others. One artist lays down images that another artist may cancel out — in the language of Gerhard Richter, "unpainting" the image. Some passages on these walls are graffiti-like and rival the best of street art. They are counter-cultural, surreal, abstract, conceptual art. Yet the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

The painting is on plywood boards screwed to the walls. This is not at all the same context as a building, bridge or subway car, tagged by artists on the run from authorities. The work is more suggestive of theme-park entertainment than edgy art. Completed in just two weeks, it might have benefited from more time and thought.

Photo by Juan Montana, Edited by Jenn Carter (click for larger version)
Although art collectives are trending right now, they're not really new; Jean-Michel Basquiat worked with a collective in the late 1970s. Yet the urgency for our culture to share ideas, resources and skills makes collective work a critical learning experience.

I wonder what the work would have looked like had there been a few women in the collective. I'm glad Roseanne Weiss, of the Regional Arts Commission, curated and made this exhibition possible. Although this attempt is rough, art collectives are on their way to making significant statements in future chapters of art history.

For more information and to view time-lapse video of the installation, visit www.worldchesshof.org.

Screwed Moves: through Feb. 10, 2013 at the World Chess Hall of Fame, 4652 Maryland Ave. For more information, visit www.worldchesshof.org or www.missouriartscouncil.org.

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