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Cai Guo-Qiang (Contemporary Artists)by Guoqiang Cai
Synopses & Reviews
This is a study of the work of Cai Guo-Qiang, one of the most important Chinese artists to have emerged in the 1990s. Best known for his spectacular firework projects, Cai has explored a diversity of media and artforms.
Cai Guo-Qiang (pronounced 'Tzai Go-Chang'; Cai is his family name) is one of the most important Chinese artists to have emerged internationally in the 1990s. Best known for his spectacular firework projects at locations ranging from museum entrances to the sites of Land art works such as Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, Cai has explored a diversity of media and artforms. These have included works such as an extension of the Great Wall of China, designed to be seen from outer space by extraterrestrial beings; feng shui rearrangements of private living spaces both in Japan and New York; participatory projects with kites, jacuzzis and mini golf courses; and sculptures constructed from melted-down cars or abandoned boats. His projects are strongly influenced by their location and the works are frequently altered or developed as they are exhibited at new sites. Unifying Cai's wide-ranging work is his consistent investigation of humanity's place within the universe.
Cai was short listed for the 1996 Hugo Boss Prize and won the Leone d'oro award at the 1999 Venice Biennale. He has been included in numerous biennial exhibitions, including Sao Paulo (1996), Istanbul (1997) and Venice (1995, 1997, 1999, 2001). His work has also been included in all of the key surveys of new Chinese art, including 'Cities on the Move' (Hayward Gallery, London and tour, 1997) and 'Inside Out: New Chinese Art' (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and tour, 1998).
Cai was born in Quanzhou, China, in 1957. He lived in Tokyo from 1985 to 1995, before moving to New York. During the 1990s he emerged onto the international art scene and has become a major figure of contemporary Chinese art. With the exception of theAntarctic, he has made projects in all the continents of the world.
His early works from the 1980s took the form of oil paintings, but these gradually evolved as he become interested in harnessing the power of nature to develop the work in new and unusual ways.
His early experiments included making rubbings from rocks and trees on the canvas before painting it, and using exploding gunpowder to mark and scorch the canvas. This interest in harnessing the power of nature is fundamental to the artist's work. Cai's background includes acting in martial arts films and training in theatre design. Through his theatre and film work he developed a consistent interest in space and time. He has continued to use gunpowder in his works, creating breathtaking spectacles on a large scale. For No Destruction, No Construction: Bombing the Taiwan Museum of Art (1998) a 2,500-metre line of gunpowder and fuses was laid across the roof of the museum, down through the galleries and out into the square in front, then ignited. The resulting scorch marks on the columns at the museum's entrance are now part of its permanent collection.
Perhaps the artist's best known work is the Venice Rent Collection Courtyard (1999), which reconstructed a little-known clay tableau produced in China during the cultural revolution (The Rent Collection Courtyard, c. 1965). The original work, which aimed to show the benefits of the new system over feudalism, toured China during the 1960s and 1970s and depicted heroic rice farmers tyrannised by rapacious landlords. In Cai's version the clay was left unfired so that it gradually disintegrated during the course of the 1999 Venice Biennale where it was first shown.
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