Conversation Piece

How to Talk About Paul Chan's Meditation on the Marquis de Sade

How to Talk About Paul Chan's Meditation on the Marquis de Sade
A detail from Paul Chan's The Libertine Reader (2011)

Here's what you should know about Paul Chan's The Libertine Reader (2011), an artwork in an edition of 35 available on Artspace.

1. The winner of the Guggenheim’s latest Hugo Boss Prize, Paul Chan is a critically acclaimed conceptual artist whose multifaceted, often politically slanted work has been included in the both the Whitney and Venice biennials as well as museum shows around the world.

2. In 2009, at a high point in his career, the book-besotted artist took a sabbatical from making art to found a publishing press called Badlands Unlimited, putting out such books as a collection of Saddam Hussein’s speeches on the subject of democracy and two volumes of his own critical writings. 

3. This work, made in 2011, marries Chan’s interest in books with his art, recreating the covers of a clothbound textbook on the years of America’s Great Depression, emblazoning it with a mountain scene, and titling it The Libertine Reader after the amoral, decadent philosophy of the Marquis de Sade.  

4. In a bravura recent show at the Schaulager Museum in Basel, Switzerland, dozens of similar book works—some of Chan’s most iconic—lined a giant wall as the centerpiece of the exhibition. 

5. Far from being a solitary, bookish artist, Chan has also done ambitious projects in trouble spots far afield, traveling to Baghdad in 2002 with the humanitarian group Voices in the Wilderness and staging a rendition of “Waiting for Godot” in the waterlogged remains of post-Katrina New Orleans, with extirpated local residents playing the roles.

chanPaul Chan's The Libertine Reader (2011)

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