Chan’s “singular artistic voice” and versatile practice won him the prestigious award.

On 21 November 2014, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation announced artist Paul Chan as the winner of the Hugo Boss Prize’s 10th edition. Chan, born in Hong Kong and raised in the United States, conducts a multifaceted and constantly evolving practice. 

Paul Chan '1st Light', 2005, projected digital animation; artist-authenticated computer, software, and animation. 14 min, color, silent. Installation view at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. Image by Art Radar.

Paul Chan, ‘1st Light’, 2005, projected digital animation; artist-authenticated computer, software and animation. 14 min., colour, silent. Installation view at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. Image by Art Radar.

Hong Kong-born, New York-based artist Paul Chan (b. 1973) has just been awarded the tenth Hugo Boss Prize, which includes an award of USD100,000. Additionally, as part of the prize, an exhibition of Chan’s work will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in Spring 2015. Chan was chosen by an international jury comprising:

  • Nancy Spector, Deputy Director and Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation;
  • Katherine Brinson, Curator of Contemporary Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum;
  • Doryun Chong, Chief Curator, M+, Hong Kong;
  • Tim Griffin, Executive Director and Chief Curator, The Kitchen, New York;
  • Polly Staple, Director, Chisenhale Gallery, London;
  • Ari Wiseman, Deputy Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

A singular artistic voice 

Since receiving his BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA from Bard College in 2002, Chan developed an impressive practice ranging across sculpture, animated video, light projection and community-based performance. His influences are intellectual and multifaceted, culminating in a sophisticated, exciting visual language. A 2005 Bomb Magazine article describes the versatility of his work:

[Chan’s] drawings and doublesided video projections evince an equal pull to Adorno and to über-outsider Henry Darger, to the Bible and to Sade, to Beckett and to hip-hop, and while Chan remains faithful to old-fashioned charcoal drawing, he enjoys a simultaneous love affair with digital rendering and manipulation.

The artist formally focused on film and video for his BFA and MFA, but his practice transgresses traditional media and defies categorisation. One of Chan’s first major art world successes, for example, was a mesmerising light projection video series entitled The 7 Lights (2005-2008), which combines obsolete computer technology with hypnotising silhouettes to uncannily transform entire rooms.

Unfettered commitment to experimentation

In 2007, in post-Katrina New Orleans, Chan co-organised re-imagined stagings of Samuel Beckett’s famous play Waiting for Godot: the successful collaboration with Creative Time adopted a unique and meaningful community-centric process from conception to completion.

Click here to view a video of Chan’s 1st Light (2005) on youtube.com

Another example of Chan’s extraordinary artistic vision is his daring and provocative Sade for Sade’s Sake (2009), which premiered at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. In this work, the artist created a five-hour 45-minute animated video projection and structured it like a ballad, aligning the rhythm of poetry with the rhythm of sex. The jury for the Hugo Boss Prize aptly praised Chan’s “singular artistic voice”, declaring that:

Regardless of platform, each of Chan’s indelible and at times provocative projects deftly excavates our cultural landscape. We applaud his unfettered commitment to experimentation and look forward to the continued evolution of his practice.

Artist, activist, trickster

According to his Guggenheim biography, Chan worked simultaneously as a political activist from the outset of his career. However, he keeps his political and artistic lives strictly separate. In the Bomb Magazine interview, the artist discusses what he sees as an inherent contradiction between politics and art:

I believe in the project of participatory politics. Without collective social power things won’t change. But I also believe in – I’m fanatical, frankly – about what art means for the future. And I see them as oppositional forces […] the language of politics [means that] people need to consolidate identities [and] create a social cohesion […] to make things happen. Whereas my art is nothing if not the dispersion of power. To never consolidate. To always disperse. And so, in a way, the political project and the art project are sometimes in opposition.

Paul Chan, 'Sade for Sade's Sake', 2009, installation view at the 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009. Image courtesy Stunned/Flickr.

Paul Chan, ‘Sade for Sade’s Sake’, 2009, installation view at the 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009. Image courtesy Stunned/Flickr.

Chan goes on to say that whether or not it is true that politics and art are separate, it is productive for him to imagine that they are – “so that [his] allegiances are clear and [he] can work productively at both without reducing one to the other.” He also says that his job is “to diversify whatever political art is.”

Any further than that, the artist remains elusive with regards to his work. Believer Magazine describes him as “a sort of art-world trickster”, and the website of Chan’s digital publishing company quotes him commenting on the Hugo Boss Prize win:

I’m afraid the success comes from a complete misunderstanding of my work.

The Hugo Boss Prize 2014

Whatever Chan is doing, however, seems to be working, because with each project he succeeds in further pushing the boundaries of both medium and ideology. His dynamic oeuvre has certainly contributed to the “evolution of the contemporary visual arts” – the criteria upon which the Hugo Boss Prize has been awarded since its inception in 1996. In addition to a prize of USD100,000, a solo exhibition of Chan’s work will be on view at the Guggenheim Museum in Spring 2015.

Chan is the fourth artist from Asia to receive the Hugo Boss Prize; Rirkrit Tiravanija from Thailand won the prize in 2004, Emily Jacir from Palestine in 2008 and Vietnam-born Danh Vo in 2012. The other four finalists nominated in this edition included Sheela Gowda (India), Camille Henrot (France), Hassan Khan (Egypt) and Charline von Heyl (Germany). According to The Art Newspaper, Steve McQueen withdrew his name from consideration citing a busy schedule.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: art prizes, film, video, new media, Hong Kong artists

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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