Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China. The son of a historian and painter, Cai was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Drama Institute from 1981 to 1985 and his work has, since the outset, been scholarly and often politically charged. Having accomplished himself across a variety of media, Cai initially began working with gunpowder to foster spontaneity and confront the suppression that he felt from the controlled artistic tradition and social climate in China at the time. 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, exemplified in his series, Projects for Extraterrestrials. These explosion projects, both wildly poetic and ambitious at their core, aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them.
Cai quickly achieved international prominence during his tenure in Japan and his work was shown widely around the world. His approach draws on a wide variety of symbols, narratives, traditions and materials such as feng shui, Chinese medicine, dragons, roller coasters, computers, vending machines and gunpowder. He has been selected as a finalist for the 1996 Hugo Boss Prize and been merited with awards such as The 48th Venice Biennial International Golden Lion Prize and the 2001 CalArts/Alpert Award in the Arts. He has also won awards for Best Exhibition and Best Installation from the International Curators Association. Most recently, Cai was awarded the 7th Hiroshima Art Prize.
Among many of the artist's solo exhibitions and projects are the notable Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006; curating the first China Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale, 2005; Tornado: Explosion Project for the Festival of China, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., 2005; Cai Guo-Qiang: Inopportune, Mass MoCA, North Adams, 2005; Cai Guo-Qiang: Traveler, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 2004; Organizing and curating BMoCA: Bunker Museum of Contemporary Art, Kinmen, Taiwan, 2004; Light Cycle: Explosion Project for Central Park, New York, 2003; Ye Gong Hao Long: Explosion Project for Tate Modern, Tate Modern, London, 2003, Transient Rainbow, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002; Cai Guo-Qiang, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, 2002; APEC Cityscape Fireworks Show, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Shanghai, 2001; Cai Guo-Qiang: An Arbitrary History, Musee d'art Contemporain Lyon, France, 2001; Cultural Melting Bath: Projects for the 20th Century, Queens Museum of Art, Queens, New York, 1997; Flying Dragon in the Heavens, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humblebaek, Denmark, 1997; The Earth Has Its Black Hole Too, Hiroshima, Japan, 1994; and Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters, Jiayuguan City, China, 1993.
Through years of artistic practice, Cai has formulated collaborative relationships with specialists and experts from various disciplines, including scientists, doctors, feng shui masters, designers, architects, choreographers, filmmakers and composers, such as Issey Miyake, Rafael Vinoly, Zaha Hadid, Tan Dun and Tsai Ming-liang among others. He is repeatedly listed among the UK journal ArtReview's Power 100.
Cai is currently a core member of the creative team and Art Director of Visual and Special Effects of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. He is also preparing for his large-scale retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York with subsequent international venues.
Photograph and Essay from