Downtown Art

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October 17, 2005 // UPDATED 1:58 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

War of the worlds

Huang Yong Ping crosses genres as an artist. He’s an architect, historian, set designer, archaeologist, writer, and visual artist and sculptor. In “House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective,” Ping imagines a carnival where every ride or exhibition isn’t just fun, but is also a deeper learning experience.

The exhibit features mainly sculptural installations, along with some drawings.

Ping introduces Eastern and Western cultures as if they’re acquaintances at a party. By mingling fragments of the past and present — some of which are artifacts revived from junkyard graves — Ping investigates national identity. One particular piece is so powerful that the Chinese artist (who’s based in Paris) has never been able to make it real until now.

That is, his large-scale sculpture “Bat Project IV” dynamically recreates part of an $80 million U.S. Navy EP-3 plane. “Bat Project,” named for the bat emblem on the plane’s side, testifies to the clash between an American spy plane and a Chinese fighter plane in 2001. The Chinese government previously censored Ping’s politically loaded project.

For anyone who likes to go to garage sales, antique stores or junkyards, wait until you see what Ping saved from the grave.

Originally, he intended to build the Bat plane out of wood and scaffolding. However, it seemed like a better idea just to get pieces of an actual Navy EP-3 plane. At a California trash heap, Ping and Walker Art Center curators stumbled across a plane that had seen its glory days in the Nicolas Cage movie “Con Air.”

Seriously, can you imagine hunting through mounds of garbage, auto parts and other mechanical fixtures for something as massive as a plane? Or presenting the oversized task to your art teacher: Hey, Mrs. Smith, I’m probably going to be gone next week because I need to find a plane from a junkyard. Don’t worry; it’s for my art project.

That leads to lots of logistical questions. How do you go about breaking it down and compartmentalizing the pieces so that you can travel with the no-longer mobile plane and put it together again?

“Bat Project IV” is also filled with 300 stuffed bats. That’s not all: you’ll get to walk through the 40-foot tunnel/cockpit.

Other pieces are as alluring: A two-ton sculpture of an elephant with a tiger passenger comments on old-time safaris, while an airport immigration checkpoint is a composition consisting of empty lion cages illuminated by light boxes.

A 50-foot wooden python skeleton is kind of an archaeological rollercoaster as it hangs from the ceiling, while a “theater” houses the micro activities of insects and small animals.

There’s also a model of a Shanghai bank building fashioned from the 1920s Beaux Arts style that turns out to be a big sand castle. About 40,000 pounds of sand and concrete will disintegrate throughout the course of the exhibit’s run.

Ping led the 1980s Xiamen Dada movement comprised of Chinese artists who wanted to update the Chinese identity with a blend of Zen, Tao and Western modernity. Although he consistently challenges the parameters of art, Ping’s novelty items don’t fight art but expand on its dictionary definition.

• Tu-Su thru Jan. 15; Tu-W, Sa-Su 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave. S. $6-$8. 375-7600. www.walkerart.org.