Monumental Empires, Huang Yong Ping in Paris

A few months ago, London was welcoming the Ai Wei Wei exhibition displaying the work of the famous Chinese activist. Another Chinese artist is currently under the spotlight in Paris : Huang Yong Ping, who has been invited to occupy the 13 500 square meters of the Grand Palais, one of the most spectacular venue of the French Capital.

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016 © Adagp, Paris 2016 - courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris Picture Didier Plowy

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016
© Adagp, Paris 2016 – courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris
Picture Didier Plowy

Monumenta, it’s an exhibition about monumentality. It is about the gigantic space offered by the Grand Palais and about the artists’ capacity to use and fill this space with Art. After Anish Kapoor, Christian Boltanski or Daniel Buren, this year was Huang Yong Ping’s turn to meet the challenge.

Montage de Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016 © Adagp, Paris 2016 - courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris Picture Didier Plowy

Montage de Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016
© Adagp, Paris 2016 – courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris
Picture Didier Plowy

Originally from Xiamen, China, where he was born in 1954, Huang Yong Ping was recognized as the most controversial and provocative artist of the Chinese art scene in the 1980’s. His taste for paradox and deconstruction led him to see a lot of his early artworks forbidden by the Chinese government.

In 1986, after forming Xiamen Dada, a post-modernist, radical avant-garde group, he decided to immigrate in France, country that he will represent 10 years later, at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Half French, half Chinese, his recent work is clearly witnessing this double influence of the oriental and occidental culture.

The project on which he has been working for the last 6 months and which is currently on display in the great nave of the Grand Palais is about interaction between societies and confrontation of elements.

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016 © Adagp, Paris 2016 - courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris Picture Didier Plowy

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016
© Adagp, Paris 2016 – courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris
Picture Didier Plowy

The first thing any visitor will see entering the venue will be the piles of containers and the shadow of a gigantic snake skeleton. Walking around the venue, the visitor will then be able to discover the full length (250m) of the snake’s body, waving around the space and to finally find the head of the reptile facing Napoleon’s hat, supreme symbol of the empire’s power.

What the artist tries to express through this installation has to do with globalisation, mutation and power. It is a confrontation between history, industry and destiny.  As if the organic and unpredictable waves of the snake around those very geometric containers were threatening the empire. The artist invites the visitor to think about the forces leading the world, about their evolution, about the fact that they are constantly challenged and thus ephemeral. And this is not a novelty for the artists who often used oneiric and spectacular representations of animals to express a worrying and troubling vision of the future.

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016 © Adagp, Paris 2016 - courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris Picture Didier Plowy

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016
© Adagp, Paris 2016 – courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris
Picture Didier Plowy

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016 © Adagp, Paris 2016 - courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris Picture Didier Plowy

Empires par Huang Yong Ping, MONUMENTA 2016
© Adagp, Paris 2016 – courtesy de l’artiste et kamel mennour, Paris
Picture Didier Plowy

It is especially not the first time he is using the figure of a snake to express worrying expectations for tomorrow : at St Nazaire, on the estuary of the Loire, one of his masterpiece lies on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean as part of Le Voyage a Nantes – a gigantic snake skeleton symbol of the ecologic disaster ongoing.

This Master of in situ installations dealing with historic, political, societal or architectural matters gives us freedom of interpretation for his monumental artwork – nevertheless, most of the visitors will understand that the main topic here lies in a suggestive link between power, society, violence and ambition.

Serpent d’ocean – Huang Yong Ping, St Nazaire © Manuel Filippi Farmar

Serpent d’ocean – Huang Yong Ping, St Nazaire © Manuel Filippi Farmar

The confrontation between the artwork and the Grand Palais, piece of architectural and historic heritage also enriches the project, especially when the shadows of the glass roof structure starts to merge with the bones’ shadows. And this exhibition wouldn’t exist without the incredible assembly and industrial work which reminds the historic background of the venue, first built to welcome the universal exposition of 1900, celebrating the industrial revolution.

Empires – Huang Yong Ping

Monumenta, Grand Palais, Paris, from the 8th of May to the 18th of June 2016.

Words : Constance Desenfant

 


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