Reviews

Paul Chan at Schaulager

Basel

Paul Chan, 3rd Light, 2006, digital video projection and table, 14'.

Paul Chan, 3rd Light, 2006, digital video projection and table, 14'.

TOM BISIG/©PAUL CHAN/EMANUEL HOFFMANN FOUNDATION, GIFT OF THE PRESIDENT, 2010, ON PERMANENT LOAN TO THE ÖFFENTLICHE KUNSTSAMMLUNG, BASEL

This was the most comprehensive survey to date of works by Paul Chan, the 40-year-old artist and activist born in Hong Kong and now based in New York.

The show opened with Chan’s Happiness (Finally) after 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 2000–3. An animation in which schoolgirls cavort in a post-apocalyptic paradise, the video is inspired by the 20th-century outsider artist Henry Darger’s illustrated epic In the Realms of the Unreal, and by the ideas of 19th-century utopianist Charles Fourier. Additional works on view included Chan’s hypnotic projection series, “The 7 Lights”—rectangles of light splashed across floors and walls, over which silhouetted objects floated as if past a window—and Waiting for Godot in New Orleans (2007), a video documentation of Chan’s production of the Beckett play in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

The building’s lower level was devoted to Chan’s recent work. Here the high point was Volumes (2012), a wall-mounted grid of the over-painted covers of 1,005 books, their pages ripped out. It posed the timely question in this Internet age: What is a book?

Chan is a prolific writer, and in addition to the 388-page catalogue, two volumes of texts by the artist accompanied the exhibition. These writings ranged, like the works in the show, from profound to trivial.

A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 126.

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