Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Recap: Cai Guo Qiang on his body of work

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Judging from my Instagram and Facebook feeds, a ton of people saw the opening of Cai Guo Qiang's first West Coast exhibition at the MOCA last weekend. I hope someone caught the artist talk with Jeffrey Deitch as well.

I caught one of his other lesser known appearances at USC last week where the audience was treated to an introduction to the artist's work. Born in the Fujian province of China, the artist has come a long way from his hometown. He's lived in Japan, then moved to New York and now pretty much travels the world  igniting the imagination. He's best known for his gunpowder works, where he melds traditional Chinese firework knowhow with a contemporary stance to produce works that are unpredictable, undeniably spectacular, but also poetic and painterly.

He had the audience laughing quite often, tailoring his talk to the economic constraints of the student population at hand. When he could, he'd slip in his own experiences of not having enough money, or finding ways to make a little bit to fund his projects. It was refreshing to hear an artist of his stature still remembered his days of doing everything for himself, or at least most of it.

He shared with his audiences a fascination for time-based work. Sometimes, his installations would convey movement despite being static. He created this "tornado of cars," as he calls it for the Guggenheim, then subsequently for the Mass MOCA. In another, he simulated packs of wolves running then bumping into glass. In execution, one feels like it's a slow motion movie rendered in reality.

Inopportune at MASS Moca via.

Ravishing Beasts via.
"As an artist, you sometimes become fixated with certain aspects of a work and make it continue in other projects," says Cai. Time is something that goes on and on with his work, in new and surprising ways.

Even his famous ignition events played around that aspect of temporality. His gunpowder art was created first as a way for him to get over his "control freak" personality, he says to the moderator. But it was also a physical record of his ignition events. Good news for gallery owners/ curators who wanted something to display on their walls 24/7, without having to worry about paying for fireworks shows throughout the exhibition period too.

The more I see of Cai's work, the more I find something to come back to again and again. "The reason why my art is so embraced is that it reflects a universal value of childlike curiosity, dreams of an inner child, anticipation of when you're waiting for something to happen," says Cai. Despite the sometimes prohibitive cost of putting up his works, it does deliver on wonder and poetic execution, one that keeps his audience wanting more.

Cai's exhibition, Sky Ladder, runs until July 30.


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