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Chinese artist takes center stage at Grand Palais

A Chinese artist has taken over the exhibition hall of the Grand Palais in Paris with a vast artwork featuring shipping containers, a giant snake skeleton, and a Napoleonic hat. Every year, a different artist is challenged to fill the 13,500 square-metre space with a truly “monumental” artwork.

The Grand Palais in Paris is currently home to some surprising - and very large - objects.

It includes this giant skeleton of a snake coiling its way over towering piles of shipping containers AND a huge Napoleonic hat.

The cavernous hall, 35 meters in height, has hosted major exhibitions since it was first built in 1900, but since 2007, contemporary artists have been challenged to fill it with works designed for the space, in the “Monumenta” exhibition.

This year, that task was given to Huang Yong Ping, a Chinese artist who has been living in France since 1989.

He says he has always wanted to do a ‘Monumenta’ installation and made the first sketches of ideas to fill the space 10 years ago.

“My personal experience is a part of this project, but today’s world has its part in it too. This project can’t be disconnected from the reality of the world,” he said.

The installation, called “Empires”, aims to encourage visitors to think about the global powers that are now ruling the world, Huang says.

Visitors are confronted with 305 cargo containers that are arranged in towering piles, representing the power and impact of globalisation.

The giant snake skeleton is 254 metres long, while the huge bicorn hat - the style worn by Napoleon Bonaparte - looms several metres over the visitors below.

The snake is made of 316 vertebrae and 568 cast-aluminium ribs produced in four French factories and one in China. It took 60 workers 11 days to assemble, with some working on site for up to 20 hours a day. The entire installation weighs 980 tons.

Huang was born in Xiamen in China in 1954. He is a leading light of contemporary art in China.