Building on advanced results on permutations, we show that it is possible to construct, for each irreducible representation of SU(N), an orthonormal basis labeled by the set of standard Young tableaux in which the matrix of the Heisenberg SU(N) model (the quantum permutation of N-color objects) takes an explicit and extremely simple form. Since the relative dimension of the full Hilbert space to that of the singlet space on n sites increases very fast with N, this formulation allows us to extend exact diagonalizations of finite clusters to much larger values of N than accessible so far. Using this method, we show that, on the square lattice, there is long-range color order for SU(5), spontaneous dimerization for SU(8), and evidence in favor of a quantum liquid for SU(10).