The last few weeks have been a race in preparation for the biggest show in the history of our gallery. Legendary wildlife photographer David Yarrow is heading to Chicago for a solo exhibition of his works at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary on the heels of two of the most successful shows in the history of wildlife photography. David sent me a letter a few weeks ago exclaiming the virtues of his London and Oslo shows. It appeared that these two top notch galleries sold over $2.7 million of his photographs within a period of two weeks! David wrote, "Chicago is next, Arica. Are you ready for me?"
Wow! That was a a message to aspire to. Are we ready? I think in the 30 years I have been in the art world, I have seen a lot of artistic success and a lot of failure. I have met the artists who ooze success and those who call themselves starving artists. Personally, I have a propensity to gravitate toward the former. I admire people who earn their stripes through hard work and pushing themselves beyond the boundaries of what is possible. I like the people who are willing to do the impossible.
David has been a photographer for over three decades. He was named Young Scottish Photographer of the Year at the age of 20 while he was still attending Edinburgh University. That same year, he was sent to cover the World Cup in Mexico for The Times and captured the iconic shot of Argentine footballer, Diego Maradonna, holding up the winning trophy (over Germany) in a crowd. That one photograph earned him worldwide recognition.
After university, he went into finance, became a stockbroker, and eventually founded his own London-based hedge fund. David knows about success. He knows how to leverage his talent with his idealism and pragmatism. He has an insatiable appetite for accomplishment and has been using his brilliant abilities to capture the spirit of our times. Unfortunately, it has not been a happy spirit. But then again, which times really have been?
For millennia, human beings have lived without thought or consideration for the other inhabitants of this planet. They have lived by superstitions, artificial beliefs and lack of respect and genuine selfishness. We humans have a tendency to believe that we have a right to decide the fate of other sentients beings, forests, oceans and mountains. Whether it is through carelessness or intention, we have decimated a large population of magnificent creatures for various parts of their anatomies. Somehow, somewhere, someone decided that the horn of a rhinoceros would instill magical benefits from curing a common cough to cancer and increasing sexual prowess. Over the years, the population of the rhino has plummeted. Most likely, that someone would have been a brilliant marketer who was looking for a way to increase their income.
We just opened a magnificent show by legendary photographer David Yarrow. Who was to know that this exhibition was so timely with the events of the last few weeks with the reversal and re-reversal of the ivory ban?
Hilton | Asmus Contemporary is dedicated to make our work in the Arts benefit our earth and all of the living beings entrusted to our care. From elephants to lions to tigers to children to refugees to our oceans and plastics, we care about life on this earth. We support any individuals or businesses who support human beings in their endeavor to make our earth a more compassionate and humane dwelling place.
As we wrap up the month of October, we want to reflect on the journey of our current exhibition, “The History of the Chess Queen – or the Advent of Feminine Power.” For us, the employees and interns at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary, it’s been a great experience being able to work closely with artists who create in many different kinds of mediums and come from countries all over the world such as Australia, England, Scotland, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Denmark, Germany, Canada, Cuba and the United States
The opening of the show was a great success. We had hundreds of people walking in and out of our doors to admire the work of many talented artists who came together to celebrate the importance of women throughout history. As we get closer to the end of the show (which will come down October 27th) we wanted to honor the author of the book who inspired our exhibition: Marilyn Yalom's Birth of the Chess Queen.
Marilyn Yalom, author and historian who serves as senior scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, came to Hilton | Asmus Contemporary on October 10th to give a talk about her book Birth of the Chess Queen and what inspired her to write it. Yalom also talked about her research which took her all over the world as she tried to trace the complicated history of chess in different countries and cultures. Books were signed, photos were taken, and it was a very inspiring evening with many of the artists who participated in the show coming to meet Yalom. We’re hoping to have Marilyn back at the gallery in January for the release of her newest book The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love!
While we have been busy at the gallery with the Chess Queen show, Arica Hilton, president and curator of Hilton | Asmus Contemporary, has had many exciting successes of her own. On October 5th she had a show at the Union League Club of Chicago where she displayed paintings from her series “I Flow Like Water.” Hundreds of people showed up to see the exhibition, which was hung in the presence of works by Monet and Cezanne among many other iconic artists in history. The event was incredible and Arica talked about artists who inspire her and what painting means to her. Congratulations, Arica!
As October is quickly coming to a close we are starting to prepare for another big upcoming event: David Yarrow. David Yarrow has spent his career capturing the beauty of our planet’s remote landscapes, cultures, and endangered animals. Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1966, he is an internationally acclaimed fine art photographer and currently the world’s best-selling wildlife photographer. His exhibition “Wild Encounters” will be open to the public at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary on November 10th so stay tuned for more news and events regarding the show!
It has been an exciting couple of months at the gallery and we look forward for much more to come!
Ivana Gatica, Intern at Hilton | Asmus Contemporary
I learned how to play chess when I was 13 years old. My best friend's cousin from California came to visit for the summer and not having much to do in rural Michigan, spent his time trying to teach his cousin and her an awkward friend how to play the board game. Jonny was my first real crush. All of 14 years old, he was tall and handsome with piercing blue eyes. How I wanted to learn the game to have Jonny's attention. It was one of the happiest and most heartbreaking summers of my life, as I don't think he even noticed my existence. I think he was just trying to while away the time as there was nothing else to do. But by the end of the summer, I was able to play chess with Jonny and I may have actually beaten him once or twice.
Years later, I came across a book called Birth of the Chess Queen, by Marilyn Yalom, the author of History of the Wife. Once I picked up the book, I was hooked. A avid lover of history, I loved the stories of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Blanche of Castile, the Cult of the Virgin Mary and Queen Isabella of Spain.
Most historians agree that the game of Chess was invented in India around the 6th century as a war game, with a king, a vizier, elephants, chariots, horses and pawns, which were the foot soldiers. There was no queen on the board of what we know in modern times as "Queen's Chess." The vizier was the advisor to the king. And like the king, could only move one square and had very little power. As the board game developed, it traveled along the Silk Road through Persia, the Arab lands, North Africa and eventually, Spain. Around the 11th century, a female figure of a queen was discovered, yet she, too, had very little power and could only move one square. It's vast and sumptuous history reveals an incredible timeline of rules, restrictions and freedoms that revolved around the game.
Before there were cel phones, texting and all manner of technological devices to gain instant gratification, people played a board game that required skill, critical thinking, strategy and intuition to amuse themselves and each other. Chess was a game played at court and considered a "courting" game. It was the the only time a man and a woman could be alone – to flirt, to fall in love, to make love. Chess was integral to the idea of “winning” someone’s heart through competition and strategy. The 14th century poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote in chess metaphors in THE BOOK OF THE DUCHESS, inspired by the death of Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster and beloved wife of my favorite chivalrous character of the 14th century, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
The history of the chess queen is fascinating in how she emerged at a time when women's status was rising. The chess game was a witness and participant in the lives of men and women trying to find love, fun and pass their time. So different from how we while away our time on Facebook or Instagram, numbing our minds and our hearts with the click of a button, while our ancestors were busy using their minds and hearts trying to connect and communicate through a series of moves on a board. Chess was sometimes an erotic game, a game of love or a game of power.
Marilyn Yalom explains In a New York Times article, "Also crucial was the example of medieval warrior queens, who made a chessboard without a queen seem as incomplete as a Ferrari without an engine."
Before Wonder Woman, there was Toda of Navarre, in the 10th century, who went to battle to install her grandson on the throne (and won); Urraca of Galicia, who divorced her husband, King Alfonso I of Aragón and Navarre, waged war on him, retook Portugal and then a lover. (Alfonso married into her family's crown. I think she didn't like him very much.) And when the Chess Queen became the dominant piece on the board, it was Queen Isabella of Castile, who united her country, financed Christopher Columbus' expeditions to found a new world, exiled Spain's Jews, expelled the Moors and in her spare time ran the Spanish Inquisition. She was quite the powerful one. There were other queens whom we would consider "badass" today. Adelaide of Burgundy (later a Holy Roman empress), Matilda of Tuscany (she led her troops into battle on horseback) and Catherine the Great. And one of my favorites was Eleanor of Aquitaine in France, whose court was the epitome of courtly love.
Over the years, I wanted to create an art exhibition in honor of the this magnificent powerhouse of a queen. And here we are, two days away from opening night, preparing my gallery for the first group show we have had in years. We have pulled together a collection of over thirty painters, sculptors and multi-media artists from around the world to present their interpretation of the History of the Chess Queen or the Advent of Feminine Power.
This story of the chess queen and the experience of preparing this exhibition made me think about how women's resilience to their environment, their cultures and their place in life have evolved over the centuries. Although women have had to fight for the right to stand alongside men as equals, the exhibition could easily be construed as a political commentary, especially with events happening today to women all over the world. However, this exhibition attempts to display the evolution of a simple board game that originated with an all male cast to how the most powerful character evolved to become the only female member of game.
I look forward to presenting the beauty and power of the messages these artists wish to share. We will be planning artist forums throughout September and October so you can meet the artists one on one. Oh, and Marilyn Yalom has kindly agreed to fly to Chicago to do a talk about her book, BIRTH OF THE CHESS QUEEN, and to visit our show! Stay tuned to the calendar of events.
I am very grateful for the efforts of my wonderful staff. My gallery assistant, Kate Maddox has graduated to Gallery Director! Congratulate her when you come by this Friday. My intern, Sid Sidani, has worked tirelessly in preparing the exhibition catalog. And my former intern, Ivana Gatica, came back to help with designing the posters and preparing the exhibition. And we could not do without my gallery assistant, Dan Corwith, who has been working tirelessly hanging the gallery, lifting heavy (seriously heavy) sculptures, moving walls and preparing the exhibition for all to see this Friday on the opening night of the River North Art District fall season. And much gratitude and love to my co-curator and fellow artist, Rashelle Roos, who has brought new vision and wonderful aesthetic to this show. And a big thank you to all of the participating artists:
SANTINA AMATO - HUGH ARNOLD - SUSAN AURINKO - SHARON BLADHOLM - PATTY CARROLL
RICK GARCIA - PETER GRAY - JULIE GARDNER - KOSTIS GEORGIOU - ROBERT FLEISCHMAN
ARICA HILTON - TAMMY KOHL - DOUGLAS KIRKLAND - SUZANNE COHAN-LANGE - JEFFREY LEVING
TERRY O'NEILL - EVE OZER - PAUL NELSON - MICHAEL PARKES - JACK PERNO - TERRY POULOS
CHRIS REEVES - RASHELLE ROOS - MARCO NEREO ROTELLI - LAUREN SUDBRINK
TAN TAŞPOLATOĞLU – SOREN THIELEMANN - JULIAN WASSER – DAVID YARROW
If you feel like stopping by to play a game of chess, my son gave me a replica of the 12th century Lewis Chess pieces, one of the few complete sets discovered in Scotland. It's been a long time since I played, so I need to brush up on my critical thinking and strategy skills! I have read that playing chess increases IQ, exercises both parts of the brain, increases concentration (for those of us who are ADD, maybe good to try) enhances memory and increases creativity. So let's play chess!
See you Friday, September 8th from 5:30 to 9 pm for the opening.