Huang Yong Ping’s washing machine washed these two books
Huang Yong Ping - Untitled (Rue Carpeaux, Paris), emulsion paint on washing machine, 95 x 60 x 48 cm . (37 3/8 x 23 5/8 x 18 7/8 in.), 1993

Huang Yong Ping – Untitled (Rue Carpeaux, Paris), emulsion paint on washing machine, 95 x 60 x 48 cm . (37 3/8 x 23 5/8 x 18 7/8 in.), 1993, photo: Christies

The inscription on the exterior of the machine says:

Two years ago I found this washing machine on rue Carpeaux, but it is not functional. I’ve used in once for washing clothes and once for washing books. Now it is the time to throw it away, herby noted down.

Published: October 17, 2019 - Last Updated on May 7, 2020

Introduction

Imagine inserting two historical books representing various cultures into a washing machine. Then, instead of removing them quickly, you continue washing them for a whole two minutes. That’s what the Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping did on December 1, 1987.

Art history washed in washing machine

He took two books, a classical history book on Chinese art and one on the history of Western art, placed them inside a washing machine and left them there for a couple of minutes. The result was a pile of ineligible text.

Huang Yong Ping - The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern [Western] Painting Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes, 1987

Huang Yong Ping – The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern [Western] Painting Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes, 1987

Ideologies that define Huang’s career

Huang Yong Ping was born in China. Later, he moved to the West, where he participated in various art exhibitions. For the most part, one can divide his work or career into two phases. First, his career is mostly defined by his focus on Chinese issues. Second, one clearly sees the influence that Western culture has on his artistic mind. Providing a good explanation regarding his career depends on your starting point. Those in the West saw him one way while art lovers in China also had a different view of Ping.

Cricism & praise

In the eyes of many in China, Ping’s previous artworks show a man who was not only free but also subversive to express himself artistically. Later, the same people believe that Ping sold out his ideals to the Western world. On the other hand, you have those in the West who view his previous works as being the result of living and working in an authoritarian system. Upon starting to display his pieces after returning to China from his sojourn in the West, they claim his skills and career blossomed.

Whatever the case, the two groups agree that Huang Yong Ping changed after returning from the West. It’s well worth pointing out that Haung’s career had already taken off prior to his departure to the West. In terms of contemporary art in China, his reputation was already quite solid before leaving for France. However, in his words, Ping says that his methodology never departed from what it was before he left China.

Huang Yong Ping- The History of Chinese Painting and A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes, 1987 (reconstructed 1993)

Huang Yong Ping – The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern Western Art Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes, 1987/1993, Chinese teabox, paper pulp, glass, 76.8 x 48.3 x 69.9 cm (30.5 x 19 x 27.5 in), collection: Walker Art Center

The text on the work reads:

A brief history of Chinese painting history and modern painting was stirred in the washing machine for two minutes.
1990: This piece was destroyed in Xiamen, China.
Redone in Paris in February 1993

Influences

Furthermore, it’s also not in doubt that Ping’s artistic career owes much to the following influences in his life: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault, Martin Heidegger, Roland Barthes, Zen philosophy and Taoist philosophy.

Why did he wash the books?

Based on all that, it’s clear to see why Huang could wash two historical books in a washing machine. In fact, he says that he washed the two books to prove their worthlessness. Essentially, he’s saying that they are not as important as is generally believed. It’s also important to state that Huang had a reputation for washing books. What is more, this wasn’t the only occasion that he washed books as a form of artistic expression. However, what is clear is that he found a unique way of using his artistic talent to inform the world of his ideologies.

Huang Yong Ping - The History of Chinese Painting and A Concise History of Modern Painting Washed in a Washing Machine for Two Minutes, 1987 (reconstructed 1993)

Huang Yong Ping – The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern Western Art Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes, 1987/1993, Chinese teabox, paper pulp, glass, 76.8 x 48.3 x 69.9 cm (30.5 x 19 x 27.5 in)

 

All images by Huang Yong Ping unless otherwise noted.

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