While the Chinese modern art market of recent years with its fast rising cult-of-personality art stars was ultimately born to fail—and with the recent economic meltdown, fail it has—the shining light of the red country’s art world continues to glow in the form of CAI GUO-QIANG. Drawing freely from ancient mythology, military history, Taoist cosmology, extraterrestrial observations, Maoist revolutionary tactics, Buddhist philosophy, gunpowder-related technology, Chinese medicine, and methods of terrorist violence, Cai’s art is a form of social energy, constantly mutable, linking what he refers to as “the seen and unseen worlds.” His newly unveiled retrospective, “I Want to Believe,” at the GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM, Bilbao (the second stop on a global tour that began in 2008 at the Guggenheim NYC), presents the full spectrum of the artist’s protean, multimedia art in all its conceptual complexity.
Born in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China, in 1957, Cai studied stage design at the Shanghai Drama Institute. In the 1980s he emerged as a member of the burgeoning experimental art world of China’s postreform era. After moving to Japan in 1986, Cai tapped into a rich vein of international 20th-century art and critical thought. While living there, he mastered the use of gunpowder to create his signature gunpowder drawings and the related outdoor explosion events. These practices integrate science and art in a process of creative destruction and reflect Cai’s philosophy that conflict and transformation are interdependent conditions of life, and hence art. At once intuitive and analytical, his gunpowder drawings and explosion events are intrepid, conceptual, site specific, ephemeral, time based, and interactive—performance art with a new matrix of cultural meaning.
Cai has lived in New York since 1995. While increasing his participation in the global art system of biennials, public celebrations, and museum exhibitions around the world, Cai’s social projects engage local communities to produce art events in remote, nonart sites like military bunkers, a socialist utopianism influenced by Cai’s experience growing up in Mao’s Red China and during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76. His recent work has expanded to include large-scale installations, allegorical and sculptural, that recuperate signs and symbols of Chinese culture and expose the dialectics of local history and globalization.
Designed by the artist as a site-specific installation, the Guggenheim’s exhibition presents art as a process that unfolds in time and space, dealing with ideas of transformation, expenditure of materials, and connectivity. The structure of Cai’s art forms are inherently unstable, but his social idealism characterizes all change, however violent, as carrying the seeds of positive creation. HAVE A LOOK: Read More
We certainly saw this coming a mile away…
The intersection of the fashion and art worlds has become an increasingly trafficked corridor of late, and the show “Christian Dior and Chinese Artists,” that opened at Beijing’s ULLENS CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART last week, seeks to satiate China’s seemingly endless appetite for both Western fashion and modern art. Featuring newly commissioned works that express the “essence of Dior” by leading Chinese artists Wang Du, Zhang Huan, Huang Rui, Li Songsong, Zhang Dali, Xu Zhongmin, Liu Jianhua, Zheng Guogu, Lu Hao, Wang Qingsong, Yan Lei, Zhang Xiaogang, Wen Fang, Shi Jingsong, Wang Gongxin, Quentin Shih, Liu Wei, Rong Rong & Inri, Tim Yip, Qiu Zhijie, and Ma Yan Song—displayed alongside epic couture pieces by the brand, the fashion house seeks to further glamorize its stunning aesthetic legacy with an art show of visual hits and misses. Highlights of the show include otherwise socially conscious artist ZHANG DALI’s portrait of Dior designer JOHN GALLIANO using repeating tonal “AK-47” text (although these homages are usually reserved for victims of gun violence); LI SONGSONG‘s two-story Dior purse constructed of fluorescent tubes; and WANG QINGSONG’s Last Supper photo featuring Dior-clad models and the artist himself in hospital pajamas as Christ. While the incredibly hot Chinese art scene has turned into a massive factory system with top artists churning out works created by an army of assistants (often sold directly through art auctions) at breakneck pace, the marriage of the two commodities seems to mostly work in this collaboration and surely hits the spot for the domestic audience for which it’s intended. God knows in this economy all major brands will have their sights focused firmly on China in the coming years with marketing blitzes that will surely make the branding extravaganzas over the last five years in Western markets seem like a warmup run. HAVE A LOOK:
As part of their ongoing celebration of the upcoming 2008 Olympic games NIKE has pulled yet another trick out of the hat by projecting images of some of China’s greatest athletes onto the sparse sides of superstar Dutch architect REM KOOLHAAS‘ new governmental CCTV building in downtown Beijing. Transforming the city’s sleepless skyline into a nighttime multimedia event, the projections highlight one of the country’s most significant architectural endeavors and their greatest hope for Olympic greatness at a time when the eyes of the world are all focused on the rapidly developing Red giant…
One of the most memorable experiences in life has to be climbing the legendary GREAT WALL OF CHINA. Built between the 6th century BC and the 16th century, the 4,000 mile Great Wall was constructed to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire during the rule of successive dynasties. The area pictured here is closest to Beijing, the former capital city of the Ming Dynasty which was responsible for building the most strong, fortified, and enduring segments of the wall. At its peak, the Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million men and historical records indicate that around two to three million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall. Now, the colossal structure is a modern tourist trap where American, Euro, and native Chinese travelers mingle to gawk at each other and the monumental gigantitude of the twisting path before them. HAVE A LOOK:Read More
On our long prowl in Beijing last week it was impossible to travel nearly a block without encountering some amazing Chinese signage translated into inimitable “Engrish.” Here’s a peek at the best of ’em. HAVE A LOOK: Read More
In China, BMX is an obscure sport at best, a fact NIKE aims to change. Last week the 6.o squad including riders MIKE SPINNER, MAXIME CHARVERON, and NIGEL SYLVESTER rolled out to China and proceeded to set up shop in the Eastern equivalent of Thunderdome as designed by Richard Serra for a demo in honor of freestyle BMX pioneer BOB HARO called “Lightning Bolts.” Transforming an abandoned water tank—that was full of two feet of stagnant, standing water up until the day before last Tuesday’s event—into a BMX paradise in the round was no easy feat but when all was said and done a former Communist industrial wasteland was converted into one of the world’s most incredible street courses. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Nike event without an art component and Hong Kong toy designer Michael Lau stepped to the plate, creating a huge painting and special toy for the occasion. Also on display were a series of original-style Bob Haro BMX number plates as customized by an array of young artists to be auctioned off in benefit of The Land of Plenty foundation that introduces at-risk youth to the world of BMX. HAVE A LOOK: Read More
Yeah, that title sounds scary and it should be. Eating in Beijing can certainly be dicey and the street food is truly a thing to behold. Nearly all manner of strange and seemingly inedible creature is represented in an endless stream of street stalls, all impaled on bamboo sticks ready to be cooked—or not—to your discerning standards. To untrained Western eyes, these stalls look more like a setup for Jackass than a serious culinary operation. Of course, freshness is prized in China so many of the selections are still alive in cages awaiting your selection and subsequent preparation. Of course, we couldn’t resist a quick tour. Needless to say, it was a strict diet of white rice after this outing, though. HAVE A LOOK: Read More
Just returned from China where ardent Supertouch supporters/footwear-to-the-gods giant NIKE have had their hands full for the past several months preparing for some incredible pre-Olympics events including the launch of the new Nike Sportswear division, the Nike technology retrospective “House of Innovation” exhibit, and the big (and seemingly impossible) takeover of the legendary and historical Forbidden City for a nite. Along for the ride was a veritable who’s-who of international tastemakers and shakers who transformed the massive trek into a traveling party & impromptu meeting of the minds. Under massive preparation for the upcoming Olympic games that launch on 08.08.2008, Beijing is a city in transition, undergoing a series of monumental building projects (Rem Koolhaas’ CCTV tower is a standout) and sweeping social changes that mark its slow, but obvious westernization—a fact made apparent by the ubiquitous presence of American and European shops and restaurants that dot the city’s cluttered urban landscape. HAVE A LOOK (and lots more to come): Read More