Cai Guo-Qiang’s gunpowder and ceramic works take centre stage in the artist’s first major exhibition in Japan after seven years.

The Yokohama Museum of Art presents a large-scale solo of Cai Guo-Qiang’s recent oeuvre, including newly commissioned works inspired by the history, art and culture of Japan.

Cai Guo-Qiang sketching 'Nighttime Sakura', Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, gunpowder on paper, 800 x 2400 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo by KAMIYAMA Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Cai Guo-Qiang sketching ‘Nighttime Sakura’, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, gunpowder on paper, 800 x 2400 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Kamiyama Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

On 7 July 2015, the Yokohama Museum of Art launched “Cai Guo-Qiang: There and Back Again”, the first major solo exhibition of New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang in Japan in the last seven years. In addition to newly commissioned two-dimensional works, the show features some of Cai’s most significant pieces created in recent years and never shown in Japan before, such as Head On (2006), an installation of 99 life-sized replicas of wolves running into a glass wall made for the Deutsche Bank Collection.

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang's 'Head On', Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, 99 life-sized replicas of wolves and glass wall. Wolves: gauze, resin and hide, dimensions variable. The Deutsche Bank Collection. Photo by KAMIYAMA Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘Head On’, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, 99 life-sized replicas of wolves and glass wall. Wolves: gauze, resin and hide, dimensions variable. The Deutsche Bank Collection. Photo: Kamiyama Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang's 'Head On', Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, 99 life-sized replicas of wolves and glass wall. Wolves: gauze, resin and hide, dimensions variable. The Deutsche Bank Collection. Photo by KAMIYAMA Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘Head On’, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, 99 life-sized replicas of wolves and glass wall. Wolves: gauze, resin and hide, dimensions variable. The Deutsche Bank Collection. Photo: Kamiyama Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Return to Japan

Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China) is not new to Japan: he lived there for nearly nine years between 1986 and 1995. It was in Japan that Cai launched his international career, by exhibiting in art museums in the country and participating in exhibitions abroad. From Japan, he moved to the United States in 1995, where he is now based. The exhibition takes inspiration from the title of Tao Yuanming’s famous poem The Return, and marks Cai’s ‘homecoming’ to the place that was instrumental in shaping his artistic path.

Installation view of 'Nighttime Sakura' by Cai Guo-Qiang, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, gunpowder on paper, 800 x 2400 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo by KAMIYAMA Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Installation view of ‘Nighttime Sakura’ by Cai Guo-Qiang, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, gunpowder on paper, 800 x 2400 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Kamiyama Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

The show includes two commissioned works created in Yokohama and referencing Japanese history and culture. As Eriko Kimura, Curator at the Yokohama Museum of Art, writes in her catalogue essay Enduring Beyond Generations, these two pieces are part of Cai’s group of artworks that “act as bridges, connecting the past and present of certain cultures by quoting historical episodes and famous artworks”.

Ignition of gunpowder painting 'Nighttime Sakura' by Cai Guo-Qiang, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, gunpowder on paper, 800 x 2400 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo by KAMIISAKA Hajime. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Ignition of gunpowder painting ‘Nighttime Sakura’ by Cai Guo-Qiang, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, gunpowder on paper, 800 x 2400 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Kamiisaka Hajime. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

In Nighttime Sakura, Cai depicts the powerfully symbolic cherry blossoms with his signature gunpowder on Japanese paper, inspired by research he conducted on renowned Yokohama-born Okakura Tenshin (aka Okakura Kakuzo) – an early Japanese thinker – and nihonga painters, particularly Yokohama Taikan (1868 – 1958).

Cai Guo-Qiang, 'Seasons of Life: Summer', 2015, gunpowder on canvas, 259 x 648 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Yokohama Museum of Art.

Cai Guo-Qiang, ‘Seasons of Life: Summer’, 2015, gunpowder on canvas, 259 x 648 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Yokohama Museum of Art.

For the paintings on canvas entitled Seasons of Life, he employed the same pigments used in his daytime explosion events in Black Wave, Valencia (2005) and Elegy, Shanghai (2014). The series of 17 panels takes inspiration from shunga – erotic ukiyo-e popular during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). The paintings depict seasonal plants with flowers, birds and couples making love, tattoed seasonal motifs from hanafuda – Japanese playing cards.

Cai Guo-Qiang, 'Seasons of Life: Winter', 2015, gunpowder on canvas, 259 x 648 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Yokohama Museum of Art.

Cai Guo-Qiang, ‘Seasons of Life: Winter’, 2015, gunpowder on canvas, 259 x 648 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist and Yokohama Museum of Art.

Cai Guo-Qiang, 'Spring', gunpowder drawing on porcelain as part of the installation 'Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter', Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2014, gunpowder on porcelain, 240 x 300 cm. Commissioned by the Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Collection of the Artist. Photo by Zhang Feiyu. Image courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang, ‘Spring’, gunpowder drawing on porcelain as part of the installation ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter’, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2014, gunpowder on porcelain, 240 x 300 cm. Commissioned by the Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Collection of the Artist. Photo: Zhang Feiyu. Image courtesy Cai Studio.

Gunpowder and ceramics

The exhibition includes some of Cai’s works with gunpowder on ceramics, such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter (2014), created for his solo “Cai Guo-Qiang: The Ninth Wave” at Shanghai’s Power Station of Art. For the series of four white porcelain panels, Cai collaborated with Dehua porcelain craftsmen from China. Each panel depicts peonies (spring), lotus flowers (summer), chrysanthemums (fall) and plum trees (winter) with birds and insects to represent the four seasons.

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang's 'Morning Glory', 2015. In the backgroud: 'Summer' and 'Fall', 2014, part of the installation 'Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter', Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015. Collection of the artist. Photo by KAMIYAMA Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang’s ‘Morning Glory’, 2015. In the backgroud: ‘Summer’ and ‘Fall’, 2014, part of the installation ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter’, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015. Collection of the artist. Photo: Kamiyama Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

The terracotta installation Morning Glory, created for the show in collaboration with students from the Yokohama College of Art and Design, is an evolution of Vine (2014), made with pottery students in Buenos Aires for “Cai Guo-Qiang: Impromptu” at Fondacíon PROA. Morning Glory is inspired by the Japanese plant and uses real wisteria vines, with more than 600 terracotta leaves and flowers covered with gunpowder and ignited to create delicate and nuanced shadows.

Cai Guo-Qiang, 'Morning Glory', Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, terracotta, vine, steel, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Photo by KAMIYAMA Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

Cai Guo-Qiang, ‘Morning Glory’, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2015, terracotta, vine, steel, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Photo: Kamiyama Yosuke. Image courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art.

In the catalogue essay The Cycle of Nature, Hideko Numata, Chief Curator of the Yokohama Museum of Art, writes about these works:

[…] viewers will be reminded that life is ephemeral and subject to change, but that all things can be made eternal through circulation and revival.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, ceramics, fire art, drawings, installation, picture feasts, museum shows, events in Japan

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Brittney

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.

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