Travis Diehl on PAUL CHAN at Greene Naftali for The New York Times
A drawing as a recording of an insurrection
Paul Chan, Installation view, A drawing as a recording of an insurrection, Greene Naftali, New York, 2022
Over the course of a week in early 2021, Paul Chan made a sprawling, double-sided drawing in response to the events of January 6th. In this monumental work on paper, a weeping sun and moon hover above the US Capitol, mid-insurrection. A devilish figure blows a gust of wind that spurs on the violent crowd, as rioters trample the flimsy barricades—and one another—underfoot. Chan made the mural-scaled drawing not only to document the events of the day, but also to capture the surreality of watching it unfold across countless screens and streaming platforms.
On view at Greene Naftali’s ground floor gallery beginning January 6, 2022, the work’s public debut marks the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot. Voter registration for all US residents will also be conducted onsite during the run of the show. For those who choose to register to vote at the gallery, Chan has created a limited number of drawings to give them as a gesture of appreciation for affirming the basic and inalienable right to vote in America.
A coda of sorts to Chan’s previous exhibition at the gallery, Drawings for Word Book by Ludwig Wittgenstein (2020), the work belongs to an ongoing series inspired by a little-known book: a children’s dictionary by the eminent philosopher, recently published in its first English translation by Chan’s imprint, Badlands Unlimited. The drawing’s title, brechn, brach, gebrochen, du brichst, bricht, brich! (to break, broke, broken, you break, breaks, break!) and einsperren (to lock someone up) (2021), comes from two entries in the dictionary, and were chosen so either term can refer to the images on either side. The work was rendered in ink and brush with the artist’s left (non-dominant) hand, resulting in buoyant, animated forms that serve as vessels for weightier themes. For Chan, this “left-handed path” appeals because it refuses to project authority, and instead lets him demonstrate how a perceived weakness can turn out to “be one’s real strength.”
PAUL CHAN in conversation with his 10-year-old daughter on his current show at Greene Naftali in Vogue