Cai Guo-Qiang, Frolicking on Ice in the Galaxy (detail), 2020. Gunpowder on glass and mirror, 205x915cm. Photo by Wen-You Cai. Courtesy of Cai Studio.
Contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s large-scale solo exhibition, Ramble in the Cosmos—From Primeval Fireball Onward, is unveiled on June 29, 2023, at the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT). The exhibition is co-organized by the NACT and SAINT LAURENT. Curated by NACT’s Director General Eriko Osaka, this exhibition continues the center’s diverse programs in promoting both domestic and international contemporary art.
Cai Guo-Qiang (born 1957, China) moved from China to Japan in late 1986, staying for nearly nine years before his departure for the United States in 1995; during this time, he greatly developed his unique style of using gunpowder in his artworks. For decades, Cai has been fascinated by the wider universe and the unseen world, including feng shui and astrology, and the ancient Eastern philosophies behind them. He also holds a long-term interest in science and technology as contemporary approaches to understanding our infinite universe, and his work is influenced by his sensitive reflections on contemporary social issues. Cai creatively uses gunpowder as his artistic medium. His large-scale gunpowder paintings, installations, and outdoor explosion events are renowned worldwide and convey a grand worldview that is both mythological and anthropological.
Cai Guo-Qiang, Fetus Movement II: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 9 (detail), 1991. Gunpowder and ink on paper, panel, 200x640cm. Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.
In 1991, Cai held a solo exhibition, Primeval Fireball: The Project for Projects, at P3 art and environment in Tokyo, which marked a milestone both in his time in Japan and across the span of his entire artistic career. The title “Primeval Fireball” represented a merging of Cai’s then-understanding of astrophysics, as well as his reflection on Lao Tzu’s conception of the origin of the universe.
The exhibition Ramble in the Cosmos—From Primeval Fireball Onward thus posits the Primeval Fireball exhibition, held thirty years ago, as a starting point—Cai’s artistic “Big Bang”—and traces the evolution of Cai’s artistic practice from there.
Cai Guo-Qiang, Reviving the Ancient Signal Towers: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 8 (detail), 1991. Gunpowder and ink on paper, panel, 200x640cm. Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.
NACT’s 2,000-square-meter gallery, 1E, will be transformed into a sweeping open space for this exhibition, evoking a public square. The historic screen painting installation Primeval Fireball will be “re-enacted” on one side of the exhibition hall, featuring three new paintings on glass and mirror with all-new subjects. Adjacent to this will stand another major highlight of the exhibition: the artist’s expansive and kinetic LED installation, Encounter with the Unknown. Viewers can wander freely through these two works. Featuring approximately fifty additional works from the collections of major public art museums in Japan as well as from the artist’s own collection, the exhibition will be enriched by a large selection of rare archival materials, documentary videos, as well as wall text written from the artist’s first-person perspective, and will strike audiences as a gigantic installation, where they can experience Cai’s idiosyncratic perspective and an artistic journey whose growth resembles the expansion of the universe.
Cai Guo-Qiang, Canvas on the Moon: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 38 (detail), 2023. Gunpowder on glass and mirror mounted on wood as a seven-panel folding screen, 200x560cm. Photo by Mengjia Zhao. Courtesy of Cai Studio.
Having just emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, humans today are mired in unprecedented challenges: recessions, the regression of globalization, increasing cultural conflicts, rapid changes brought about by a wave of digitization and intelligent new technologies (including the so-called “metaverse”), as well as the decline of art and culture. Against this backdrop, revisiting the spirit of Primeval Fireball and once again looking upon Earth and its civilization from the perspective of the universe is of special significance.
Curator of the exhibition, NACT’s General Director Eriko Osaka remarks: “Cai has long explored expression free from the constraint of time/space prompted by his aspiration for the universe and curiosity of the unknown. What he shows us today with these works embodies destruction and creation, stillness and mobility, invisible and visible, chaos and order, and birth and death. They yet again suggest that we, who are but specks in the cosmos, think of the cosmic perspective and the essence of being.”
About the Exhibition
Dates: June 29–August 21, 2023
Venue: The National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT)
Address: 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558, Japan
Courtesy of the National Art Center, Tokyo.