Monumenta is the largest ephemeral art event in Paris. Each year, for the span of a few weeks, an artist is charged with the daunting task of filling the 13,500 m2 of the nave of the Grand Palais with a towering and spectacular work of art. In this seventh edition, the challenge fell on Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping and his meditation on globalisation as the new empire.
Returning to China in the year 2000 after 11 years away, Huang Yong Ping was struck by the drastic transformation of the landscape, and in particular by the mountains of containers now invading the ports. In theory, trade is in the mutual interest of nations, but what was driving this globalisation development? Would the serpent bite its own tail?
“I believe in infinite openness of interpretation,” says the artist, “Just as I don’t believe in interpretation.”
Ping presents the theme of Empires in history through the domino effect that each technological advancement had on the next. Today’s globalisation wouldn’t be possible without the invention of the internet, the shipping container, trains, airplanes and even as far back as the steam engine or the jib that first allowed vessels to sail upwind. In the cavernous space, we see several rows of freight containers, 305 in total, linked by the weaving skeleton of a hulking 250m-long serpent connecting the different elements, including a giant replica of Napoleon’s hat.
An empire is an absolute form of power which thrives on its own expansion, and which doesn’t require citizenship, only subjecthood. Without judgement, these ‘Empires’ are presented by Ping as the shifting sands that have shaped the world today, and the possibility of globalisation as a present-day empire. Following in the footsteps of previous Monumenta artists Anselm Kiefer, Richard Serra, Christian Boltanski, Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, today Huang Yong Ping plays with the scale of the space where man feels so small in juxtaposition with the colossal work.
The artist is no stranger to France, notably for his “Estuaire” public art piece, a giant serpent emerging from the river in Saint-Brevin-les-Pins near Nantes.
Monumenta 2016 is organised by the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, with the support of the French Ministry for Culture and Communication.
Huang Yong Ping “Empires”
Until 18 June 2016
Grand Palais, the Nave
Métro: Champs Elysées – Clemenceau
Open daily 10am-7pm. Until 10pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday.
Tip: Buy your tickets online to avoid waiting in line, and on “Nuit européenne des musées” Saturday May 21, the exhibition is free from 8 pm until midnight!