MONUMENTA 2016 : Empires -Huang Yong Ping

Stephanie van den Hende
May 19, 2016 9:39AM

Monumenta 2016 is organised by the Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais, with the support of the French Ministry for Culture and Communication.

Since 2007, Monumenta has invited an artist with an international reputation to take on the Nave of the Grand Palais, a 13,500m2 surface area and an immense glass dome, 35-metres high. Anselm Kiefer, Richard Serra, Christian Boltanski, Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have all succeeded one another in tackling this challenge. 

Huang Yong Ping (born in China in 1954, living in France since 1989 and currently based in Ivry-sur-Seine) is a major figure of the avant-garde of 1980s China. During this period, he founded the Xiamen Dada movement, whose motto is «Zen is Dada, Dada is Zen». The true founder of contemporary art in China, he carried out radical acts as part of this group which cultivate a certain taste for paradox and protest through the absurd. From the start of this period, his work has established links between art, life and politics. Drawing inspiration from mythical tales, whether religious or philosophical, he revisits and combines beliefs and referents from East and West to create work that challenges our certainties. Arousing fascination and concern for the transformations of the world, he creates grandiose, dreamlike scenes featuring animals, and alerts us to the troubling and disturbingly current relevance of these myths.  

Huang Yong Ping is an artist of every excess. He has demonstrated the power of his monumental installations – which have become his trademark – on multiple occasions. From ‘Les Magiciens de la Terre’ (Magicians of Earth) in 1989, when his machine-washed books invaded the space of the Grande Halle de la Villette, to his life-sized Noah’s Ark (‘Arche 2009’) in 2009 in the chapel of the Beaux-Arts in Paris, not forgetting the Venice Biennale (‘Un Homme, neuf animaux’ – One Man, Nine Animals –1999), where his mythological animals pierced through the roof of the French Pavilion, the originality of these installations resides in their eminently contextual nature; each work is directly inspired by the historical, political, social and architectural context of its exhibition location. 

Thus, ‘Serpent d’Océan’ (Sea Snake), a permanent work installed on the beach of Saint-Brévin-les-Pins, near Saint-Nazaire, is a 120 metre-long metal skeleton of a serpent, like a giant monster which seems to have washed up from time immemorial. A sort of spectre of the current ecological disaster, the skeleton also evokes the ruins of the old fishing pontoons which surround it, symbolising the end of traditional activities and the exhaustion of underwater resources.  

For Monumenta 2016, Huang Yong Ping will create an immense immersive installation. The spectacular project consists of a colourful architecture of eight islands, over which looms a structure whose drop shadow, through both its direction and its form, combines with that of the metal skeleton of the glass dome.   

Standing back in the central Grande Allée, this perspective allows visitors to fully appreciate the entire installation and the scale of the Nave, which the artist is taking on.  

This project is a symbolic landscape of today’s economic world. Like the smog rising out of the valleys in Chinese painting highlighting the permanent mutation of energy and substances, or the first industrial landscapes by the Impressionists that depicted the physical and optical effects of the machine’s transformation of the environment, Huang Yong Ping uses the masterpiece of the industrial age that is the Grand Palais as a vehicle to represent the modification of the world, the metamorphoses of political and economic powers, the ascension and new geographical regions, the decline of ancient empires and the provisional apparition of new candidates for power – as well as the violence that such ambition can cause. Strategies, tactics, politics, art and the art of war, the desire for power and wealth, ruins, the birth or rebirth of societies: every country, conglomerate, or multinational that participates in the interminable succession of grandeur and decadence seeks – even for just a few moments – its own Empire.  


Curator: Jean de Loisy, President of Palais de Tokyo. 

Stephanie van den Hende