Current: Works by Huang Yong Ping at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco and the Wellcome Collection in London

An extraordinary photo taken at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco shows this hybrid creature – mixture between an octopus and a cuttlefish – invading the Museum’s prestigious Salon d’Honneur. The work, a 25 meter wide installation by Huang Yong Ping, is part of an exhibition dedicated to the Mediterranean Sea, bringing together contemporary art and science. The show explores the wonders and dangers of the ocean and pays inevitably attention to overfishing and the exploitation and of the natural environment. Huang Yong Ping’s work is the largest contemporary art contribution. It’s title - Wu Zei - translates as Black Theft, referring to the octopus’ oil as well as the maritime disasters brought on by men. Standing underneath Wu Zei, and almost tackled by one of its tentacles, is a statue of Prince Albert I, founder of the Oceanographic Institute.

Installation shot of Wu Zei, Oceanographic Museum, 2011

Huang Yong Ping is a French artist of Chinese origin who became famous for his politically challenging art installations and for his role as a leading figure of the 1980′s avant garde in China. His first UK solo exhibition, at the Barbican in 2008, explored the complex imperial history between Britain and China in the 19th century, focusing in particular on the Opium Wars. Huang Yong Ping filled the Curve of the Barbican with enlarged Opium paraphernalia, addressing concepts of colonialism, cultural identity and political power. Frolic, the exhibition title, was taken from the name of a ship built in 1844 specifically for the opium trade in China.

Huang Yong Ping's Frolic installation (2008) Credit:Huang Yong Ping

One of the works from Frolic is currently on show in London as part of an exhibition investigating the rich history of mind-altering drugs at the Wellcome Collection. An oversized, silver statue of a toppled Lord Palmerston, who served twice as British Prime Minister and is widely considered as the initiator of the Opium Wars in China in 1840 and 1858, is lying on an opium bed after assumedly having smoked a gargantuan opium pipe.

Both in terms of scale, boldness and ideological value, these works are very representative of Huang Yong Ping’s style. Both Wu Zei and Lord Palmerston show that Huang Yong Ping is a brilliant executor of conceptual ideas and an artist who can work with politically awkward issues without being sententious.

High Society – Wellcome Collection, London
20 November 2010 – 20 May 2012

Méditerranée – Oceanographic Museum, Monaco
20 November 2010 – 20 May 2012