The National Archaeological Museum of Naples presents "In the Volcano: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii"

TEXT:Sue Wang    DATE: 2019.2.22

Amphitheater of Pompeii

One day prior to In the Volcano’s opening, a savage explosion will generate the majority of the exhibition’s works. At 1 PM on February 21, 2019, at the invitation of the Pompeii Site, Cai Guo-Qiang will create Explosion Studio in the oldest extant Roman amphitheater, against the backdrop of the volcanic Mount Vesuvius. At its center, artifacts inspired by the daily life and art of Pompeii from two millennia ago, including plasters, frescoes, silk, ceramics, glassware, and marble are strewn on a 33-meter-long canvas. Working with a local fireworks company, the artist will meticulously install various fireworks products, color and black gunpowder, within the installation. The ignition of a fuse will set the artwork in motion: fierce, wild explosions bursting between objects on the canvas, as though lava from the deepest crevices of the volcano were violently inscribing a heartrending and merciless narrative onto a scroll. In chorus, hundreds of fireworks will simulate an unstoppable volcanic eruption, before the scene returns to silence. Within the lingering smoke, the artist and his team enter the “archaeological site,” now in debris, to excavate exploded artworks. Explosion Studio evokes the ancient city engulfed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius thousands of years ago and then excavated again—all within minutes. The entire process will be open to the media and the public.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Sketch for Pompeii, 2018. Marker and pencil on paper; 33.6 x 27.9 cm. Courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Study for Pompeii: Fierce Lion, 2018. Gunpowder on canvas; 300 x 300 cm. Photo by Yvonne Zhao, courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Study for Pompeii No. 2, 2018. Gunpowder on canvas; 122 x 122 cm. Photo by Yvonne Zhao, courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang explains: “For this project, I have tried to let my hormones take the lead, creating something with a touch of ferocity. In a time when people often strive to be overly civilized, cautiously polishing and ‘cleansing’ their works and even concepts which attempt to explain their works’ significance. Can’t I simply stage an uncontrolled eruption, recalling the volcano and Pompeii’s doomsday? A wholly unexpected occurrence—something that just comes our way!”

Jérôme Neutres, curator of the exhibition, adds: “Pompeii is more than a Museum, it is the city of images. The city seems to live of and with art. For Cai Guo-Qiang, to dialogue with Pompeii is to leverage this world of images and its collective imagination. This dialogue is materialized in the design of the exhibition where works by Cai Guo-Qiang are hung at the core of the permanent collection, creating a sort of paper chase vacillating between the past and present, as well as a mirror effect between the aesthetic of Pompeii and that of the first century and the imminently contemporary art of Cai Guo-Qiang.”

Paolo Giulierini, Director of MANN, comments: “Projecting this extraordinary gaze ‘On the volcano, between Naples and Pompeii’ means rediscovering the inevitable links between the Classical past and modern sensibility. Persistent links that establish a new, disquieting, and surprising dialogue between the visitor and the masterpieces in the museum (among them theVenus Callipyge, the Farnese Hercules, the Atlas, and the bust of the Pseudo-Seneca).”

Cai Guo-Qiang at the foot of Mount Vesuvius making gunpowder tests with the Naples-based firework company, Pompeii, 2018. Photo by Sang Luo, courtesy Cai Studio.

In the Volcano: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii is the point of departure for Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition series An Individual’s Journey through Western Art History. The exhibition serves as thematic prelude to Cai’s dialogues with the Renaissance at the Uffizi Galleries, with the Spanish Golden Age at the Prado Museum and with Russian avant-garde and Realist movements at the Pushkin Museum, as well as upcoming dialogues with the Middle Ages through a grand journey, and with Impressionism and Modern Art through an exhibition at a major museum in Paris.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue published by Silvana Editoriale (Italian, English and Chinese editions) and a documentary directed by Shanshan XiaA public talk will take place at the exhibition’s opening, followed by a series of lectures and education programs throughout the duration of the exhibition.

In the Volcano is made possible with the special support of the City of Pompeii and the Morra Foundation.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Gunpowder Test on Marble No. 1, 2018. Gunpowder on marble; 50 x 50 cm. Photo by Yvonne Zhao, courtesy Cai Studio.

About the exhibition

In the Volcano: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii

Host: The National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN)

Exhibition Dates: February 22 to May 20, 2019

VIP Opening: February 22, 2019

Explosion Studio in Pompeii amphitheater: February 21, 2019

Public Opening, including a conversation between the Artist and Curator: February 23, 2019

Courtesy of the artist and The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, for further information please visit or