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Suspended Cars, Leaping Wolves
China's Art Star Cai Guo-Qiang at the New York Guggenheim Museum

Cai Guo-Qian
Tornado: Explosion Project for the Festival of China, 2005
Photo Hiro Ihara. Courtesy Cai Studio

His spectacular firework displays have made him one of the best-known Chinese artists internationally. Now, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is giving Cai Guo-Qiang his largest retrospective to date. At the same time, Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe is the first one-person exhibition in a New York museum of a Chinese-born artist. The show, conceived in close collaboration with Cai, who has been living in New York since 1995, presents more than 80 works.

Cai Guo-Qian
Self Portrait: A Subjugated Soul, 1985-89
Leo Shin Collection
Photo: Courtesy Cai Studio

One of the main features are the works made with gunpowder: Explosion Events, fireworks the artist presented in more than 20 cities worldwide and documented on video. Also on show are his Gunpowder Drawings, a series of large-scale drawings begun in 1985 that arise as traces of gunpowder detonated over long sheets of paper. On three levels of the museum’s rotunda, visitors can follow the development of his work in this unusual medium, which has become his trademark.

But some of Cai's most important installations can also be seen in New York, such as Head On, which consists of 99 life-sized wolves charging at a glass wall in a high arch. The energy-laden pack of wild animals was made in 2006 as a commissioned work for the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. The artist views it as a symbol for the "universal human tragedy that results from this blind storming ahead, from the uncompromising way in which we seek to reach our goals," as Cai explained in an interview for db artmag.

Cai Guo-Qian
Head On, 2006
Deutsche Bank Collection;
Commissioned work for Deutsche Guggenheim
Photo Hiro Ihara. Courtesy Cai Studio

Adapted to the inimitable exhibition space of the Guggenheim Museum, the exhibition features new, site-specific variations of earlier installations. For Inopportune: Stage One in the atrium of the rotunda, Cai suspended nine cars in the air – adorned with blinking tubes of light to simulate the vehicles' explosion.

Cai Guo-Qian
Inopportune: Stage One, 2004
Installation Seattle Art Museum
Photo Hiro Ihara. Courtesy Cai Studio

For Venice's Rent Collection Courtyard, life-sized clay sculptures transform an entire level of the museum spiral into a dynamic artist's workshop. And in An Arbitrary History: River, a winding river of bamboo and plastic resin sends the visitor on an interactive journey in a rowboat.

Cai Guo-Qiang
Venice's Rent Collection Courtyard, 1999
Deposito Polveri, Arsenale, 48. Venedig Biennale, 1999
Photo Elio Montanari. Courtesy Cai Studio

Cai's multifaceted works call on the viewer to adapt to different realities. Since the early nineties, he has realized a large number of projects worldwide that combine traditional Chinese art and culture with western post-conceptual thought. Whether he records his explosive art on paper or in the sky, or creates bridges, dragons, and black holes of light and color – he always undermines preconceived patterns of perception and confronts the viewer with the contradictions of an increasingly globalized world. Next year, Cai Guo-Qiang will realize the most popular project of his career: as Art Director of Visual and Special Effects, he will play a major artistic role in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Peking – a gigantic art spectacle for four billion TV viewers.

Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
February 22 - May 28, 2008

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