Drawings for Word Book by Ludwig Wittgenstein
Titled "Drawings for Word Book by Ludwig Wittgenstein," Paul Chan's fifth solo show with Greene Naftali features drawings made to accompany his latest publication, Word Book, the first English translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Wörterbuch für Volksschulen, meaning Word Book—used as a dictionary for elementary schools. Chan founded his press, Badlands Unlimited, in 2010, and Word Book is the latest of more than a dozen books and artists' works.
The volume consists of almost 6,000 terms and concepts, of which about three dozen are developed into drawings for the exhibition. Stiltedly rendered with his non-dominant hand, Chan suggests that strength may come from weakness, and hints at alternative forms of belief associated with the "Left Hand Path," such as mysticism and black magic. A recurring cast of characters populate these drawings: a blackbird with a single tear ("blackbird" is one of the illustrated words), black ghosts, smartphone-wielding figures. The drawings are decidedly of the moment. The illustration for the word "crime" is a smiling klansman; the word "epidemic," a wide banner, is an illustrated tableaux featuring x'd out eyes, body bags, and weeping medical professionals in masks. But his takes can also be oblique, unusual, and thought-provoking: a drawing of a fanged clown accompanies the phrase "stock market"; another of two men kissing accompanies the word "monument." Chan, known for being something of an art world trickster, embeds a number of wry jokes in the show as well. The illustration for "monument" depicts Chan's own sculptures — his inflatable-tube-man-at-car-dealerships-esque "breathers"— mounted atop a plinth; in the illustration for "gallery," giant dollar signs bleep across a computer screen.
Paul Chan, die Seuche (epidemic), 2020. Ink on paper, paper: 50 1/2 x 136 inches; frame: 54 1/2 x 140 x 2 7/8 inches.