Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang, 1957–, Chinese painter and a sculptor especially known for using gunpowder as a medium and explosions and fireworks as means of artistic expression, b. Quanzhou, Fujian prov., studied stage design (1981–85) Shanghai Theater Academy. From 1986 to 1995 he lived in Japan, then settled in New York City. While in Shanghai he was part of a generation of Chinese experimental artists. In Japan and since then, Cai has used gunpowder both as a drawing medium, often mixing it with paint, and in performance art explosion pieces, which are frequently recorded as videos. In the United States he added dramatic large-scale, site-specific installations to his repertoire. Cai's pieces reflect his desire to mix science and art, and often illustrate his theory of creative destruction. His work frequently has a social component, as in the shanty, similar to those built by the Tiananmen Square protesters, that he constructed and blew up (1989), and The Century with Mushroom Clouds (1996), a series of smoke-billowing short gunpowder blasts at the Nevada nuclear testing site. In 2008 he created fireworks displays for the Beijing Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies. That same year he was the first Chinese artist to be given a solo retrospective at New York's Guggenheim Museum, an installation of nine suspended cars and gunpowder paintings and drawings. Cai has created projects and events for sites throughout the world, including a roof installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006) and Sky Ladder (2015), an explosion event off Huiyu Island, Quanzhou.

See D. Hansen et al., Cai Guo-Qiang (2002); K. Macdonald, dir., Sky Ladder (documentary, 2016).

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