Theatre of the World

Summary is difficult with this exhibition of Chinese-born French artist Huang Yong Ping, since, like most serious things, it was at odds with itself. It was about ideas and simply about beautiful objects; deeply pissed off about historical and current imperialism, and also unusually serene; conceptual and direct, but, then again, uncalculated and elliptical. It was also large in scope, covering 20 years of work, and large, period: One piece featured a life-sized elephant; another asked you to step inside a small plane. The centerpiece, Theatre of the World, was a turtle-shaped cage/panopticon filled with snakes, spiders, lizards, and other things that creepeth upon the earth. The critters were left to fend for themselves, making for a lot of dead bugs as the show moved into its later weeks, and creating a metaphor for, well, the whole shebang (civilization, geopolitics, natural selection). That wasn't a terribly mirthful thing to gaze upon, but Huang Yong Ping does have a witty side: Amerigo Vespucci represented the explorer as a Neapolitan mastiff, cast in aluminum, raising a hind leg to urinate an outline of America. One of the show's more puzzling offerings was The Wise Man Learns From the Spider How to Spin a Web, made up of a stark room in the center of which was an old table. On the table was a photocopy of The Dialogues of Marcel Duchamp; above it was a lit cage containing a tarantula (this one was kept alive). You could try to navigate the installation's symbolism and hidden autobiography or you could just take in the shadow cast by the cage—a gorgeous crisscross with a lot to say about the drive to understand and create.


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