Cai Guo-Qiang is celebrated for his “gunpowder drawings,” in which different types and colours of gunpowder are ignited against a surface, creating ethereal and smoky images. Commissioned by the Museum of Fine Art Houston (MFAH) early this October, Cai Guo-Qiang executed Odyssey, the largest gunpowder drawing he has made to date, on a span of 42 panels totalling 10 by 162 feet. The partnership between the museum and Cai Guo-Qiang was made possible by the museum’s curator of Asian art, Christine Starkman.

Cai Guo-Qiang in front of "Odyssey" (2010) installation at Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery, Museum of Fine Art Houston. Photo by I-Hua Lee, courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang in front of Odyssey, 2010, installation at Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery, Museum of Fine Art Houston. Photo by I-Hua Lee, courtesy Cai Studio.

Even though Cai has been working on this project since January, he was so inspired by a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston where he viewed Chinese paintings and  “browsed through an album of flowers,” that he made significant changes to the original plans, adding lotus, peonies and a scholar’s rock.

The creation process of Odyssey was made available to the public at a 25,000 square foot warehouse in the south of Houston. After five days of zealous work from Cai, along with his team and dozens of local volunteers, the ignition took place and was viewed by a number of fortunate members of the public including the museum’s donators. This was Cai’s first commissioned work made specifically for permanent collection by an American museum.

Cai, who has been working with gunpowder since the Eighties, stated at the “Odyssey” ignition evening:

“Sometimes, as an artist, I feel like I have behind me other true artists who work. This true artist is an invisible energy and power. I both revere it as I try to control it. At the same time, I anticipate and look forward to the spontaneous effects that are out of my control. This is what I’m going through. It’s why I’ve been using gunpowder all these years and would never let it go.” CultureMap

The finished piece is now permanently installed in the MFAH’s new Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery.

As noted in the MFAH press release, more commissioned work will also be conducted in the upcoming year:

“The commission is part of the MFAH’s developing “Portals Project.” This planned series of commissions from four contemporary artists is intended to provide a contemporary perspective onto the collections of Korean, Indian, Chinese and Japanese art that have been developed for this new suite of galleries over the past three years. Artist Do-Ho Suh has also been commissioned for the series, and will install his piece for the Arts of Korea gallery in January 2011.”


Related Posts :

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Chinese artists working around the world

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *