The 2020 MTV VMAs were originally supposed to take place at Barclays Center—and as you can probably guess, that didn’t happen.
Instead, MTV headed down to the Atlantic Avenue subway station that serves the arena, and took over the advertising space to amplify the work of eight artists, including PRINT Awards judge Zipeng Zhu.
“During a chaotic year that has laid bare the divisive inequities within our society, music and art have often served as universal entities to ground us, tell our stories and provide a sense of escape,” the network writes. “[The] exhibition hosted by MTV pays homage to that sense of unity.”
The project was conceptualized by MTV’s Rich Tu and Antonia Baker, who drew inspiration from the Black Lives Matter protests at Barclays earlier this year.
“The result is a vibrant picture of youth and the beauty of the differences that exist between us, as well as a love letter to New York City.”
Here, Zhu offers a few brief reflections on the work he created for the initiative, including a signature piece riffing on Henri Matisse’s Dance.
What made you decide to channel Matisse with the work?
The themes this year were “Unity,” “Music,” “Space” and “The Future.” The Moonman from the VMAs took care of “Space” and “The Future.” When I was trying to come up with an idea that represents “Unity” and “Music,” the famous Matisse painting Dance came to my head. I thought it would be great to have a group of moonmen holding hands, dancing together to replicate the iconic image.
What are you saying with the piece?
Our future would be people dancing to music together in space, and being lively and exuberant.
Did you ever dream of doing work for MTV as a cultural institution?
OMG, yes! I grew up watching MTV, and funny enough, my dream was to have a show on MTV before I turned my focus to art and design. But I’m super glad this project has come my way so I get to cross off a big one from my bucket list!
How is this work unique among your output?
I’m shocked that my 3D direction was chosen for the final output. I’ve mostly done 2D work in my past, and just picked up 3D last year. As a 3D rookie, I still kinda can’t believe my luck.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from MTV or people who have seen it?
The team from MTV was so, so, so kind and supportive. They really allowed me to have creative freedom and let me do what I do best. There were a lot of encouragements on pushing the visual to make it pop even more. I felt great trust from the team and really appreciated their help.