PARIS — The Chinese-French conceptual artist Huang Yong Ping is known for fusing complex multicultural allusions into forms that are easy to recognize but hard to interpret. His latest creation, “Empires,” commissioned for the Paris Monumenta art show, which begins on Sunday and runs through June 18, will take on the realms of military history and economic globalization.
If bigger is better, this should qualify as top-notch art. “Empires” will fill the main hall of the Grand Palais exhibition space with 305 shipping containers piled in eight “islands”; a mobile gantry crane partly supporting an aluminum snake skeleton that is more than 250 meters, or 820 feet, long and coiled over the boxes; and a representation of Napoleon’s bicorn hat 50 times the size of the original. If Rabelais’s infant giant Pantagruel had played with Lego bricks, his nursery might have looked like this.
Putting it all together was “a labor of Hercules,” said Kamel Mennour, who represents Mr. Huang in Paris and looked after the logistics of the show. Forging the 130-ton snake alone involved five specialized metal foundries, one of them in China, Mr. Mennour said, and installing the artwork required a team of hundreds, working in shifts for more than 20 hours a day for 12 days. “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
“When you are inside the Grand Palais, you will not have a global view of the installation,” Axelle Blanc, the Monumenta project coordinator, said in a joint interview with Mr. Huang, Mr. Mennour and Jean de Loisy, the curator of “Empire” and president of the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum, before the opening. “You will just see parts of it,” she said. “It is an artwork that initially resists global comprehension.”
Napoleon’s hat is a blown-up version of one he wore at the Battle of Eylau…