World Chess Hall of Fame opens in Saint Louis
By Laura High
The World Chess Hall of Fame, a cultural institution that showcases art, history, science and sports through the lens of chess, opened Sept. 9 in Saint Louis’s historic Central West End neighborhood. The Hall of Fame relocated from Miami and chose Saint Louis as its new home due to the city’s growing reputation as a center of chess.
The institution will present exhibitions of artistic and historical significance from collectors and nationally and internationally recognized artists. It will also offer interpretive programs in areas such as dance, music and art that lend context and meaning to chess. The exhibitions will feature diverse items of historical and artistic significance and help visitors understand the game of chess as well as how it has impacted global culture.
“There is such a rich cultural history around the game of chess,” said Susan Barrett, director of the World Chess Hall of Fame. “The Hall of Fame will showcase the art and history of the game, as well as celebrate great players. Our exhibitions will feature rare and historically significant items, as well as pieces by artists working in a variety of mediums. We also plan to collaborate with other local institutions and organizations, including the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Symphony and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.”
The Hall of Fame is developing a wide range of educational programs that appeal to broad audiences. It is collaborating with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis on K-12 programs that meet Show-Me standards in social studies and the visual arts and emphasize object-and inquiry-based learning skills through active engagement with exhibited artifacts. It also plans to offer periodic family days, summer camps, and a "traveling trunk" program for schools and community centers.
The Hall of Fame’s new location is directly across the street from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, which provides a forum for community chess play, chess improvement classes, beginner lessons and special lectures. The Chess Club has hosted the last three U.S. Chess Championship tournaments.
“Saint Louis has become quite a hub of chess activity,” Barrett said. “The growth in the local chess culture was definitely a factor in choosing Saint Louis for the Hall of Fame’s home.”
In its new space, the Hall of Fame will display rotating exhibitions featuring items from its permanent collection, which comprises more than 3,000 pieces, as well as four temporary exhibitions per year. Grand opening exhibitions include:
- OUT OF THE BOX: Artists Play Chess – Explores artworks that consider chess both at the formal level and at the level of actual play. These examples, which comprise a wide breadth of media, integrate chess into their pieces and incorporate elements of play or strategy that involve the viewer. This exhibition will feature the work of Barbara Kruger, Tom Friedman, Liliya Lifánova, Yoko Ono, Diana Thater, Gavin Turk, and Guido van der Werve.
- Chess Masterpieces: Highlights from the Dr. George and Vivian Dean Collection – Uses chess sets of diverse materials and outstanding craftsmanship to trace the evolution of chess and chess set design from 900 CE in India and Persia through Europe and Asia to the beginning of the 20th century.
- U.S. and World Chess Hall of Fame and highlights from the permanent collection –The Hall of Fame floor of the facility is a celebration of 49 U.S. and 16 World Chess Hall of Fame inductees. Highlights from the permanent collection are historical artifacts including books, photographs, chess sets, and more.
As part of its grand opening celebration, the Hall of Fame inducted new members on Sept. 8 in a private ceremony. Grandmasters Boris Gulko and Andy Soltis were inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame, and Vera Menchik was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame.
To celebrate the opening in style, they even had WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM
Yasser Seirawan commenting live online the live chess game.
On Saturday, St. Louis area Boy Scouts played a game of human chess during an event co-hosted by the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to launch the first-ever Chess Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura participated in the event and stood in as the black King. The game ended in a draw and Women's Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade and Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan provide live commentary during the event.
Who better to stand in as a king than GM Nakamura?
NASA Astronaut and Eagle Scout Greg Chamitoff presented 15 Scouts with the badge and on Sept. 12 the new merit badge will be available to Scouts across the U.S. Also, as part of the event, Chamitoff presented the Hall of Fame with the chessboard that flew on the space shuttle Endeavor as part his Official Flight Kit.
Now a Boy Scout can earn a Merit Badge in chess!
The celebration continues on Sept. 13 with a performance by Dutch contemporary visual artist Guido van der Werve. The Hall of Fame is collaborating with the St. Louis Symphony and the Saint Louis Art Museum for this special event. Van der Werve will play Matthew Bengtson, a World Chess Federation (FIDE) chess master and concert pianist. Rather than playing on a chessboard, the two will perform the match on a sophisticated, one-of-a-kind instrument built by the artist; this chess piano sounds a note as each chess piece is played. They will be accompanied by nine string musicians from the St. Louis Symphony who will play van der Werve’s original score. The piano will be on display at the Hall of Fame from Sept. 9 through Feb. 12.