Monday, March 10, 2008

Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe

Fetus Movement II: Project for Extraterrestrials No.9
Tokyo, Japan

Cai Guo-Qiang
I Want to Believe
Guggenheim, NY
February 22 - May 28, 2008


When I try to imagine what a retrospective is meant to look and feel like, I will now, forever, see this show play behind my eyes. This is one of the best retrospectives I've ever seen and is certainly the best show I have seen thus far this year. I imagine it will be a difficult one to beat. Cai Guo-Qiang's multimedia explosion of sound, light, sculpture and drawing takes me back about five years to the showing of Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. This exhibition is what a retrospective should be.

The first Chinese artist to be given a solo show at the Guggenheim New York, Cai Guo-Qiang is a leader among the emerging Chinese artists, as well as an outsider. He left China for Japan, and then later New York, while artistic production was still highly regulated and mostly stifled in China. Having left for Japan, Cai was able to make and display work that would most likely not have been allowed in China. However, he missed the early movements of China's avant-garde that paved the way for today's influential Chinese contemporary art movement. Despite or perhaps because of that, he is one of the most highly regarded Chinese artists of today.

Cai's work is a defining announcement of postmodern artistic expression. A delicate and violent balance between performance, installation, and traditional sensability, Cai's work explores his Chinese heritage through materials that have historically defined China. Gunpowder and fireworks, both Chinese inventions, are two of the favorite media used by this artist. Yet, lifesize human figures made from clay, recalling the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, and paper screens are also a part of Cai's vocabulary. From the materials that have laid the very foundation of tradition in Chinese artistic practice to performances that are decidedly spectacular and transient, Cai's work is a melding of history and innovation, of traditional and contemporary expression.

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