The artist who 'paints' with explosives
Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, China. He was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy from 1981 to 1985, and his work has since crossed multiple mediums within art including drawing, installation, video, and performance. Cai began to experiment with gunpowder in his hometown Quanzhou, and continued exploring its properties while living in Japan from 1986 to 1995. This inquiry eventually led to the development of his signature outdoor explosion events. Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, his artworks respond to culture and history and establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them. His explosion art and installations are imbued with a force that transcends the two-dimensional plane to engage with society and nature.
Cai was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1999, the Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007, and the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2009. In 2012, he was honored as a Laureate for the prestigious Praemium Imperiale, which recognizes lifetime achievement in the arts across categories not covered by the Nobel Prize. In the same year, he was named as one of the five artists to receive the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts for his outstanding commitment to international cultural exchange. His recent honors include the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Award in 2015 and the Bonnefanten Award for Contemporary Art (BACA), the Japan Foundation Awards, and the Asia Arts Award Honoree in 2016.
His many solo exhibitions and projects over the past three decades include Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2006 and his retrospective I Want to Believe, which opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2008. Cai served as Director of Visual and Special Effects for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. His solo exhibition Da Vincis do Povo toured across Brazil in 2013, traveling from Brasilia to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It was the most visited exhibition by a living artist worldwide that year, attracting over one million visitors. In June 2015, Cai created the explosion event Sky Ladder in his hometown Quanzhou. The artwork became the centerpiece of the Netflix documentary Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald. Fireflies, his largest public art project in the United States in the past decade, launched in Philadelphia in September 2017.
Major solo exhibitions in 2017 included October at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow and The Spirit of Painting at the Museo del Prado, Madrid. In 2018, his explosion event City of Flowers in the Sky was realized above Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence and marked the opening of his solo exhibition Flora Commedia at the Uffizi Galleries.
Latest solo exhibitions in 2019 include In the Volcano at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, The Transient Landscape at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Cuyahoga River Lightning at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He currently lives and works in New York.
Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters:
Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10, 1993
The Century with Mushroom Clouds: Project for the 20th Century, 1996
Realized at various sites that include Nuclear Test Site, Nevada; at Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969–70), Mormon Mesa, Overton, Nevada; at Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) Salt Lake, Utah; and at various sites looking toward Manhattan, New York, February - April, approximately 3 seconds each. Gunpowder (10g) and cardboard tubes. Dimensions variable. [Ephemeral] Cai's first major project after moving to the United States was The Century with Mushroom Clouds: Project for the 20th Century—a series of hand-held detonations executed in New York and Nevada. Cai deployed 10 grams of gunpowder in cardboard rolls to create mushroomoid smoke clouds at key points relating to the Manhattan project to re-enact and commemorate the atomic ignitions in the 20th Century. The ignitions were realized between February–April, 1996 at the Nuclear Test Site, Nevada; at Michael Heizer's Double Negative (1969–70), Mormon Mesa, Overton, Nevada; at Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970) Salt Lake, Utah; and at various sites looking toward Manhattan, New York.
The work was executed in anonymity and using guerrilla tactics; Cai did not obtain any official permission and was often forced to flee authorities to avoid explaining the performance. The constrained ignitions rival the “extravagant, highly theatrical performances of expenditure” that characterize the spectacle of his other explosion events. The simple recycled material used to cobble together the miniature simulated atomic clouds are resourceful, low-budget and executed personally by Cai. For each ignition, Cai was accompanied by a photographer or videographer to preserve the action of these ephemeral events. The resulting photographs are among Cai's most recognizable works.
2020 - 2019 Cai Guo-Qiang: Gunpowder Art, Ashmolean Museum
The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China, Los Angeles Couty Museum of Art (LACMA)
Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
2019 70th Anniversary Celebration of the People’s Republic of China
30th Anniversary Exhibition: The Seven Lamps of The Art Museum, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art
Cai Guo-Qiang: Cuyahoga River Lightning, The Cleveland Museum of Art
Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape, National Gallery of Victoria
In the Volcano: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples
2019 - 2018 Flora Commedia: Cai Guo-Qiang at the Uffizi, The Uffizi Galleries L’Envol, La Maison Rouge
DMoCA 7: Flower of Happiness – Wang Sishun, DMoCA (Dragon Museum of Contemporary Art), Tsunan Mountain Park
Fondation Cartier pour l’art comtemporain, A Beautiful Elsewhere, Power Station of Art
2018 - 2017 Landmark: Mapping Contemporary Chinese Art, Guardian Art Center
From Life, Royal Academy of Arts
Tracing the Past and Shaping the Future: Powerlong Museum Inaugural Exhibition, Powerlong Museum
Art Turns. World Turns. Exploring the Collection of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, Museum MACAN
The Spirit of Painting. Cai Guo-Qiang at the Prado, Museo del Prado
Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
2017 Color Mushroom Cloud, University of Chicago
Highlights. La Collection de la Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Seoul Museum of Art
And What, for Example, Am I Now Seeing? (Autodisporsi), Galleria Continua, Les Moulins
Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, commissioned by The Association for Public Art
Cai Guo-Qiang: October, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
Nice à l’école de l’histoire, Musée Masséna
Art Basel Hong Kong, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre