About Cai Guo-Qiang


Short bio:

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, China. In 1986 he moved to Japan and began working with gunpowder, which led to the development of his unique outdoor-explosion events. His works include drawings, installations, video and performance art. He has been living and working in New York since 1995.


Long bio:

As the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum once proclaimed, Cai Guo-Qiang is an artist who has literally exploded the accepted parameters of art making in our time. Drawing freely from mythology, military history, Taoist cosmology and Buddhist philosophy, gunpowder-related technology, and Chinese culture, Cai's art is constantly mutable as a form of social energy linking together what he refers to as "the seen and unseen worlds."

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China. Trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy, his work has since crossed multiple mediums within art, including drawing, installation, video and performance art. After moving to Japan in 1986, Cai Guo-Qiang tapped into a rich vein of international 20th-century art and critical thought. He further explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and to the development of his signature outdoor explosion events.

Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, these projects and events aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them, utilizing a site-specific approach to culture and history.  Cai is perhaps best known for his Projects for Extraterrestrialsseries, which include explosion events such as Fetus Movement II: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 9 and Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10.

The Century with Mushroom Clouds - Projects for the 20th Century (1996) was realized at various symbolic sites around the United States. Apart from being a commentary of the 20th century as the century of the atom bomb, Cai's ritualistic gun powder explosions at these sites double as a healing of the land.

These practices integrate science and art in a process of creative destruction.  They reflect Cai's philosophy of conflict and transformation as interdependent conditions of life, and hence art. At once intuitive and analytical, his gunpowder drawings and explosion events are audacious, conceptual, site specific, ephemeral, time-based, and interactive-performance art with a new matrix of cultural meaning.

The cultural exchanges between Asia and the West have been a focal point in many of Cai's works. Growing up in the port city of Quanzhou, he has often used boats as a metaphor in his art. In his performative 1995 Bringing to Venice What Marco Polo Forgot, Cai Guo-Qiang sailed herbs and other traditional Chinese medicine in an traditional Chinese junk along the Grand Canal to the Biennale in Venice. 

In 1995, Cai moved from Japan to New York, where he currently resides. While increasing his participation in the global art system of biennials, public celebrations, and museum exhibitions around the world, Cai remains committed to social projects that engage local communities to produce art in remote, non-traditional art sites, such as kilns, mine and military bunkers. In 2011, his solo exhibition in Donetsk, Ukraine celebrated the local miners and their contributions to their city's rich history. His work, allegorical and sculptural, has expanded to include large-scale installations that cleverly play with signs and symbols of Chinese communist culture and the dialectics of local history and globalization.

Though the structure of Cai's explosions and gunpowder drawings are inherently unstable, his social idealism characterizes all change, however violent, as carrying the seeds of positive creation. Subverting tropes such as East versus West, traditional versus contemporary, center versus periphery, Cai offers a new cultural paradigm for the art of a global age.



Cai was awarded the Japan Cultural Design Prize in 1995 and the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999. In the following years, he has received the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), New England for Best Installation or Single Work in a Museum (2005), the 7th Hiroshima Art Prize (2007), the 20th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (2009), and AICA's first place for Best Project in a Public Space for Cai Guo-Qiang: Fallen Blossoms (2010). He also curated the first China Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale, 2005, and held the distinguished position as Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Among his many solo exhibitions and projects include Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006; Transient Rainbow, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, and APEC Cityscape Fireworks Show, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Shanghai, 2001.

Cai's retrospective I Want to Believe opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in February 2008 before traveling to the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in August 2008 and then to the Guggenheim Bilbao in March 2009. Cai also created Odyssey, a permanent gunpowder drawing for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in Fall 2010. Installed as part of the museum's ongoing Portal Project, it is one of his largest gunpowder drawings to date. In 2011 the solo exhibition Saraabopened at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, Cai's first ever in a Middle Eastern country.

In spring 2012, the artist appeared in two solo exhibitions: Cai Guo-Qiang: Sky Ladder (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) and Cai Guo-Qiang: Spring (Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou, China).


Cai Guo-Qiang's website

Cai Guo-Qiang's blog

See other works by Cai Guo-Qiang