Before starting my MBA program, I took a modern art class at a local community college. For my final assignment, I had to pick an artist to do a presentation on. I didn’t know anything about Cai Guo-Qiang (蔡国强), but I was intrigued by his car installation at the Guggeinheim. I ended up learning that he was the Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Born on December 8, 1957 in Guanzhou City, Fujian Province, China, Cai Guo-Qiang was exposed to art at a young age because his father was a a brush painter and calligrapher. He trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy and lived in Japan from 1986 to 1995. While he has spent time around the world, he now currently resides in New York.
In 1984, Cai Guo-Qiang’s produced his first piece with gunpowder. He unrolled the gunpowder from a firework, poured it on a canvas and lit it on fire. I liked how this creates a dynamic sense in his work since you can’t control the outcome of the little bursts of flames. When he was asked why he worked with fireworks, Cai Guo-Qiang explained his philosophy of “creative destruction.” He believes that something must literally be broken down in order to be transformed and he also liked the juxtaposition of old and new. Fireworks are an age-old invention (created in ancient China in the 7th century), but he wanted to explore the possibilities of using the material in new ways.
After learning more about Cai Guo-Qiang, I was always intrigued by his work. I was all too excited when an exhibit of his work was being shown in Shanghai. When you first walk into the museum, you see a large boat filled with stuffed taxidermy animals. They actually floated this boat down the Huangpu river and is an environmental commentary. You’ll also see a couple of his large gunpowder on canvas works, as well as videos of the making of these pieces. One of the museum rooms also plays videos of a few of his spectacular fireworks displays.
Cai Guo-Qiang’s The Ninth Wave is currently being shown at the Power Station of Art (200 Huayuangang Lu, 花园港路200号) until October 26, 2014. The entrance fee is 50 RMB, but there is actually a Cartier Time Art exhibit also being displayed simultaneously. The Cartier watch exhibit is 20RMB, but the joint ticket is only 60 RMB. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend seeing both!