In 2021, a mob of protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol, creating a wealth of now enduring images of a country in the midst of political and cultural strife. The images, something of a modern media collage, were at times surreal and unsettling, at others comical and bizarre, underscoring the United States’s modern crossroads of political and social identification. These images became the inspiration for artist Paul Chan, whose work A drawing as a recording of an insurrection, a massive double-sided illustration interpreting the day’s events, is on view now at Greene Naftali.
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.
Over the course of a week in early 2021, Chan made a sprawling, double-sided drawing in response to the events of the day. 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, but also to capture the surreality of watching it unfold across countless screens and streaming platforms. The figures twist and swirl in a cartoonish flurry of activity, mirroring the strange nature of the events, and the violent outcomes of the attempt.
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.”
The show is on view through February 19th.
– D. Creahan
Paul Chan at Greene Naftali [Exhibition Site]