Paul Chan Attributes Hugo Boss Prize to Mistake


New York-based artist Paul Chan is the winner of the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize. The award, administered by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and delivered last night at the museum, consists of $100,000 and a solo exhibition of the winner’s work. Chan’s show will take place in March 2015.

Chan’s multifarious oeuvre spans video, performance and print projects. Chan staged Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot in New Orleans in 2007, post-Katrina. He runs a Brooklyn-based publishing house, Badlands Unlimited, known for unusual titles like On Democracy, which collects Saddam Hussein’s speeches on the topic, and a Michele Bachmann-inspired e-book romance novel. His show earlier this year at Basel’s Schaulager included works that are “focused and powerful,” Aoife Rosenmeyer wrote in A.i.A. earlier this year, as well as those that exhibit “cool restraint.” He’s also known for his political activism, which he stubbornly insists is completely separate from his artwork, though the latter does sometimes address political topics, such as the aftermath of the American presence in Iraq.

The jury was chaired by Nancy Spector, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator. Spector called the award “a lens or a barometer for the most germane, trenchant issues being addressed in contemporary art.” Chan’s work, she said, “is groundbreaking and deeply intelligent, and provides a profound commentary on our collective histories and belief systems.”

In a conversation before the public announcement, Chan was serene and self-effacing, quietly deflecting questions like “How do you feel?” by turning them back on his interviewer. However he felt about winning, he seemed amused by the event, which had drawn throngs in fashionable business attire. Chan’s jacket and tie were offset by his pink pearlescent nail polish.

This is the 10th iteration of the prize, established in 1996 and awarded every two years. It is distinguished both by its prestige and its scope: an international jury considers artists of any nationality, at any stage in their career, working in any medium. Previous winners include Danh Vo (2012), Hans-Peter Feldmann (2010), Emily Jacir (2008); Tacita Dean (2006); Marjetica Potrc (2000); Douglas Gordon (1998); and Matthew Barney (1996).

“The Schaulager show was a mix of old and new work,” Chan said last night, “and the Guggenheim will be an evolution of the new work.” He added that he’d like to find some way to tie in Badlands, because he has never done that before. “But honestly I don’t do a lot of shows,” he said.

After the announcement, a “news” item appeared on Badlands’ website: “Badlands asked Chan to comment on winning the prize and how he feels about the success. Chan replied, ‘I’m afraid the success comes from a complete misunderstanding of my work.’ 🙁 ”