Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China, and lives and works in New York. He studied stage design at the Shanghai Drama Institute from 1981 to 1985 and attended the Institute for Contemporary Art: The National and International Studio Program at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City. His work is both scholarly and politically charged. Accomplished in a variety of media, Cai began using gunpowder in his work to foster spontaneity and confront the controlled artistic tradition and social climate in China.
While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, leading to the development of his signature explosion events. These projects, while poetic and ambitious at their core, aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe. For his work, Cai draws on a wide variety of materials, symbols, narratives, and traditions: elements of feng shui, Chinese medicine and philosophy, images of dragons and tigers, roller coasters, computers, vending machines, and gunpowder. Since the September 11 tragedy, he has reflected upon his use of explosives both as metaphor and material. “Why is it important,” he asks, “to make these violent explosions beautiful? Because the artist, like an alchemist, has the ability to transform certain energies, using poison against poison, using dirt and getting gold.”
Cai Guo-Qiang has received a number of awards, including the forty-eighth Venice Biennale International Golden Lion Prize and the CalArts/Alpert Award in the Arts. Among his many solo exhibitions and projects are Light Cycle: Explosion Project for Central Park, New York; Ye Gong Hao Long: Explosion Project for Tate Modern, London; Transient Rainbow, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Cai Guo-Qiang, Shanghai Art Museum; and APEC Cityscape Fireworks Show, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Shanghai. His work has appeared in group exhibitions including, among others, Bienal de São Paulo (2004); Whitney Biennial (2000); and three Venice Biennale exhibitions.
A look at this week’s art news, including Art21 artists rallying to save the National Endowment for the Arts, and events and exhibitions everywhere from Phoenix to Reykjavik.
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“From early on, very early on, I understood that art is not about what you say. It’s about these other things that you don’t say.”