Cai Guoqiang
蔡 国强

Installations, *1957 Quanzhou, Fujian, lives and works in New York City

Cai Guoqiang, 2012, photo Jason Kaufman

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China. He recalled as a child hearing the "upsetting yet eerily beautiful blasts of artillery being fired across the straight." His father, Cai Ruiqin, was a calligrapher and traditional painter who worked in a bookstore. As a result, Cai Guo-Qiang was exposed early on to Western literature as well as traditional Chinese art forms.

As an adolescent and teenager, Cai witnessed the social effects of the Cultural Revolution first-hand, participating in demonstrations and parades. He grew up in a setting where explosions were common, whether they were the result of cannon blasts or celebratory fireworks. He also “saw gunpowder used in both good ways and bad, in destruction and reconstruction”. It seems that Cai has channeled his experiences and memories through his numerous unique gunpowder drawings and explosion events.

In his late teens and early twenties, Cai Guo-Qiang acted in two martial art films, The Spring and Fall of a Small Town and Real Kung Fu of Shaolin. Later intrigued by the modernity of Western art forms such as oil painting, he studied stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy from 1981 to 1985. The experience allowed him a more comprehensive understanding of stage practices and a much-heightened sense for theater, spatial arrangements, interactivity, and teamwork.

Cai initially began working with gunpowder to foster spontaneity and confront the suppressive, controlled artistic tradition and social climate in China. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, Cai explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and the development of his signature "explosion events". In 1995, he moved to New York with a grant from the New York-based Asian Cultural Council, an international organization that promotes artistic exchanges between Asian countries and the United States.

Gunpowder Paintings

Adam and Eve, 2011, gunpowder painting
photo Jason Kaufman

Captured Wind Arrested Shadow”: Cai Guo-Qiang and Lin Hwai-min’s Wind Shadow,
Installation performance and gunpowder painting , 2013
6 photos caiguoqiang

If you wonder how gunpowder paintings are made you must watch this PBS Video Episode “Power” (13 min)

In the past few years, supported by Deutsche Bank Berlin and the Guggenheim museums n New York and Bilbao Mr. Cai has embarked on a series of large projects under the title “Ï Want to Believe”

I want to Believe”


Head-On, 2004, 99 life-sized replicas of wolves perishing at a glass wall.
photo caiguoqiang
“Head-On” described by Cai Guoqiang himself:
YouTube Video “I want to Belive: Head-On”, 2006

Commissioned by the Deutsche Bank, this large installation was first exhibited in Berlin in 2006. Cai explains in his video how the wolves remind him of the disatrous herd-instinct of mankind. The hidden irony is that the very realistic wolves are made of gauze, resin, and dyed sheep hides...

I Want to Believe: Footprints of History”

“I Want to Believe: Footprints of History”, 2012, 33x10 m
The prepartion of the giant gunpowder paiting, photo aaa-a

The resulting “mural” is too large to be photographed in any meaningful size. Let Cai Guoqiang describe this his most monumental gunpowder painting himself:
YouTube Video “I want to Believe: Footsteps of History”, 2012

Inopportune – Stage One”

Exploding Cars, Installation, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2009

Cosely related to the “I want to Belive” series is this earlier installation at the Guggenheim, NYC. The cars (Japanese?) suspended under the dome of the museum are connected with light rods which flash periodically without gunpowder explosions.

Da Vinci's Peasants
Shanghai 2010, Brazil 2013

The Children Da Vinci's, multiple installations, Banco de São Paulo, Brazil, 2013

This large roadshow was first show at the new Rockbund Museum in Shanghai and then traveled all over Brazil. Cai purports to show the creative inventiveness of Chinese peasant engineers. There are a submarine, helicopters, a moon lander, an entire model aircraft carrier etc. built by non-nonprofessionals. He calls them “children” Da Vinci's. - One of the historical conundrums of China is, of course, that it never developed a Renaissance. Despite the fact that 17th cent. engineering and science in China (e.g., iron ships and bridges) was 100 years ahead of Europe, - It never produced a Da Vinci, Galilei, or a Brunelleschi. The reasons for that exceed this commentary. Confucius and the system of bureaucratic examinations are part of it. Even today Chinese industry prefers to copy Western inventions....