Xiamen-born, Paris-based artist Huang Yong Ping, who described his practice as utilizing “the East to fight the West . . . [and] the West to fight the East,” has died at the age of sixty-five. His work probed the ambiguities of language and political dogmas, and since the 1980s inspired controversy and international censorship.
Huang was born in 1954 in Xiamen, Fujian, China. In 1977, he entered university at the Zheijiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou), becoming one of the first class of students to attend the academy after the Cultural Revolution. After graduation, he returned to the southeast city of Xiamen, where he began working as a middle school art teacher and cofounded the radical artist collective Xiamen Dada group, which deployed its humorous and irreverent approach to art inspired by John Cage and Duchamp with the motto, “Zen is Dada, Dada is Zen.”
His international career began in 1989 with Reptile, Huang’s first room-size installation for the landmark exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre” at the Pompidou Centre and the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris. Soon after, the artist moved to Paris and began wringing newspapers and books through a washing machine, a practice he maintained throughout the 1990s. In 1997, he exhibited 100 Arms of Guanyin—a Duchampian bottlerack with objects such as a steel bowl, lotus flower, and spiral sea shell on its arms—at Skulptur Projekte Münster, a sculpture which he described as juxtaposing “contexts of two cultural backgrounds, allowing them to correct each other.”
American audiences might best remember Huang for the controversy surrounding his installation Theater of the World, 1993, a cage housing dozens of live insects and reptiles, for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s 2017 exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” Though that piece was removed after animal rights activists protested the work, The History of Chinese Painting and A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes—a 1980s work which machine washed Chinese and Western art history books together to a pulp—remained on view.
Huang represented France in the Forty-Eighth Venice Biennale (1999), and his work was the subject of a retrospective, “The House of Oracles,” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2006). “The underlying themes of the artist’s career, including colonialism, internationalism, Taoism, Confucianism, divination, and the avant-garde, commingle here to create the ideal effect—a visually and politically charged environment,” wrote Michael J. Hatch in a 2008 Artforum review of the exhibition, which went onto the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing for its fourth and final iteration.
The artist was the subject of solo exhibitions at the New Museum, New York; de Appel, Amsterdam; and the Museum of Contemporary art, Lyon. He was made a knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1999 and an officer in 2015, and in 2016 received the Museum Ludwig’s Wolfgang Hahn Prize. Huang was represented by Gladstone Gallery, New York, and kamel mennour, Paris.