Monkeys Grasp for the Moon 猴子捞月
2008

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Institution: American Embassy, Beijing, China
Materials: Lacquer on Baltic birch wood

The idea for this installation came from a Chinese saying "monkeys grasp the moon" which alludes to an old folk tale about a group of monkeys who tried to capture the moon. Viewing the reflection of the moon on a pool of water from their place on the branch of a tree, the monkeys decided to link their arms and tails together to touch what they thought was the real moon. When at last they touched the moon, it vanished in the ripples of the water. This fanciful yet instructive tale reminds us that what we strive to achieve may in fact be an illusion.

Xu Bing's Monkeys Grasp the Moon is a chain of monkeys formed out of word shapes. Each link in the chain is the word for "monkey" in a different international language, including Hindi, Japanese, French, Spanish, Hebrew and English. These words are stylized to resemble monkeys. Monkeys Grasp the Moon extends through center of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery's main staircase. The monkeys hang down 90 ft. from the skylight at the top of this atrium to a reflecting pool on the lowest floor of the gallery.