While Huang Yong Ping’s installation might make you think that you’ve stumbled upon a sand sculpting contest somewhere, this ain’t Coney Island or the Hamptons. It’s Barbara Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea, and technically, Huang’s piece isn't even made of sand: It's made from a mixture of sand and concrete. Even so, his handiwork is impressive, resembling as it does something Optimus Prime might have created during a trip to Jones Beach.
Weighing in at 20 tons and measuring 11 by 19 by 14 feet, Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank, as it’s called, is a replica of the former HSBC Bank in Shanghai, an ornate neoclassical structure erected in 1923. After the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the building became headquarters for the Communist Municipal People’s Government. During the 1990s, it changed hands again, becoming home to Pudong Development Bank.
The story of this imposing edifice bouncing back and forth between capitalist and communist ownership is the sort of historical irony that Huang has trafficked in previously with replicas of the Pentagon, the Roman Coliseum and Osama Bin Laden’s hideaway in Pakistan transformed into planters. Here, the fragile, sand castle-like appearance of the sculpture is meant to suggest that even powerful institutions are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of history. If you want to check it out for yourself, Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank is at 530 W 21st street until June 9.