Thursday, April 10, 2008
I Want to Believe
Cai Guo-Qiang is a pyromaniac.
The man goes around the world and blows shit up for a living.
This is one of my favorites. I wish the video quality were better, but basically it looks like Cai is shooting holes into the sky in Valencia.
And then there's this little ditty, "Transient Rainbow."
Bare with me here, folks, I'm so jacked up on decongestants and anti-inflammatories right now that I can barely spell my first name, but Cai Guo-Qaing's show, "I Want to Believe," is the best exhibit I've seen at the Guggenheim so far. I was skeptical at first. Cars hanging from the ceiling? Pretty impressive, but what's the point? Not until the end of the show, after I had been inundated with explosions of every kind did I realize those cars aren't just hanging from the ceiling. They are falling from the ceiling: they are firework cars.
Cai is Chinese but lived in Japan briefly and has been a resident of New York since 1995. I imagine the Cultural Revolution, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and 9/11 is a triumvirate devastating enough to leave a lasting impression on any artist's work, but here Cai has taken the phrase "lasting impression" literally. Many of this later "paintings" were created with fire—the lines and shapes the imprints made by gunpowder set aflame on canvas. Cai's paintings are not paintings. They are the charred remains of paintings.
And as if explosions, gunpowder paintings, and nine cars ready to crash on top of your head at any moment weren't enough, Cai is also a master of sculpture and replica. This piece, "Head On," includes 99 life-sized wolf replicas, crashing, reindeer-like into a piece of glass. In the Guggenheim, with its winding walkway, the piece is breathtaking, especially since you begin walking the curve of the walkway embedded in the pack of wolves: then one by one, they take flight, until all of them are above your head.
Other than a general sense of violence and destruction, Cai's work felt like a literal collision course. Like the wolves, we're bound to hit to the end somewhere. Or as my museum partner so eloquently put it, "I think this symbolizes mortality. The end is coming--" "but we just can't see it . . . death," I replied. Aside from one brief meditative piece, which features a bamboo raft which you can actually ride through water (complete with a cage of live birds) Cai finds solace in the explosive, the raging, and the rabid. Nature in its most organic form. The tipping point, for him, is all.
"I Want to Believe" runs until May 28th at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.