Cai Guo Qiang (b. 1957)
CAI GUO-QIANG(Chinese, B. 1957)

Money Net No. 3 Project for Royal Academy of Art, London

CAI GUO-QIANG(Chinese, B. 1957)
Money Net No. 3 Project for Royal Academy of Art, London
signed in 'Cai Guo-qiang' in Chinese and Pinyin; titled 'Money Net No. 3 Project for Royal Academy of Art, London' in Chinese and English; and dated '2002' (lower right)
gunpowder on paper, diptych
overall: 400 x 605 cm. (157 1/2 x 238 1/16 in.)
Executed in 2002
Albion Gallery, London, UK
Private Collection, Berlin, Germany
Institut Valenci d'Art Modern, Cai Guo-Qiang: On Black Fireworks, Valenci, Spain, 2005 (illustrated, pp. 179-180).
Sale room notice
Please note the correct width of the work should be 605 cm. (238 1/16 in.)

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

Cai Guoqiang is one of the most inimitable personalities to appear in contemporary international art, an artist who by traditional standard remains impossible to categorize. He produces "gunpowder paintings" on Japanese paper, employing Chinese ink-wash techniques, yet adding a novel touch of his own that transforms smoke and gunpowder into creative media in an ingenious fusion of technology and art. The breadth of Cai's vision has taken him to locations all around the world, where both modern cities and ancient ruins of different cultures are transformed into sites for new creative projects. Cai is neither a representative nor an inheritor of any given aesthetic tradition, eastern or western; his goal is to transcend the cultural gap between East and West and past and present, to show viewers a vision of the vast arcs of time and space and help them see the world anew with an awareness of universal values. If viewed in terms of predefined categories, Cai's creative work combines elements of explosions, land art, installations, performance art, calligraphy, and conceptual art, but his forms possess a vitality, creativity, and added levels of meaning far beyond the sum of those individual elements.

Executed in 2002, Cai Guo-qiang's gunpowder drawing Money Net No. 3-Project for Royal Academy of Art London (Lot 44) commemorates the explosion event, Project No. 51 - Explosion: Money Net. The latter was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Art London for the exhibition, The Galleries Show in 2002. Cai's explosion event features a ten-metre tall sculpture that was created from 1,300 metres of gunpowder fuse wire made into the contour of a drawstring purse. Its detonation in the courtyard of the Royal Academy Courtyard kicked off the show's opening, and ephemerally lasted for two seconds.
The exhibition, The Galleries Show, in itself was not a conventional one set in an art institution. The organizers of the exhibition invited eighteen galleries based in London to showcase contemporary art that together functioned organizationally similar to that of an art fair. Cai's work in this context, on one hand, underlines the commercial aspect of the art world, and perhaps alludes to the monetization of art in the current contemporary art scene. On another hand, the message in the transience in gunpowder also suggests the dangers and the ephemerality of money - of finances literally going up in flames even after it is captured in a net. In a practical sense, the event itself is a brief spectacle of two seconds in duration, and a metaphor for conflagration of money, as explosion events are very costly to produce. It brings association of the nature of which money can be exhausted and destroyed in a fleeting moment. Lastly, the explosion event can be read as a celebratory event. Like firecrackers being ignited during Chinese New Year celebrations, or red packets, sometimes called as 'lucky money', there is close association of the explosion event and the subject to celebration. These symbols of prosperity and good fortune are intended to extend its good wishes to its viewers.

Creation and destruction lies hand in hand, as a symbiotic relationship in Cai's works. The bombastic sound and awe-inspiring flash of an explosion have a resounding, impressive effect, and fire turns into a symbol for passion and desire in Money Net. Cai blurs the boundaries between performance, installation, painting in art-making. Spanning six meters wide, Money Net is an incredible feat of control of gunpowder explosion on paper that creates a variety of tones, liken that of ink painting on paper. The image of the drawstring purse turned sideways, seen behind what resembles a grid-like net of barbed wires is one of the more abstract expressionistic works that Cai has executed on paper up till its point. Similar to the effects of Jasper John's abstract expression in Maps, Money Net emphasizes the regularities of the grid which juxtaposes with the haphazard and uncontrollable nature of the medium itself. Cai, effectually, neutralizes the subject, and absolves the need to create meaning solely through conventional symbols or iconography, to create a pure artistic surface that could declare itself.

Cai Guo-qiang's shift to gunpowder as a creative medium in the mid-1980s simultaneously ushered in his investigation into ancient Eastern philosophy, resulting in an art form at once breathtakingly original and new, while at the same time almost otherworldly in its timelessness. Cai once said, "Gunpowder has always existed objectively, but the crux of the matter, the goal of the artist, is how to transform it and make it an expressive form." In the hands of Cai Guo-qiang, the medium of gunpowder is not just an instrument or a tool to be employed, but a material whose objective functionality can be repurposed for subjective expression. As early as 1961, the French modernist Yves Klein saw fire as a medium highly conducive to expressing feeling. He produced a series of "fire paintings" in which the natural forces of fire - its transformation, creativeness, destruction, and disappearance-became linked with art and creativity. Klein said, "Fire and heat are explanatory in a great variety of contexts, because they contain enduring memories of personal and decisive events we have all experienced. Fire is both intimate and universal. Of all phenomena, fire is the only one that so obviously embodies the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in paradise, and burns in hell. Because it can contradict itself, it is one of the enduring principles of the universe." Through his fire-themed works, Klein explored the material world, but Cai Guo-qiang's gunpowder works, while extending the theme of fire's opposing qualities, go further in making gunpowder part of a distinctive creative vocabulary, one that grows from special insight into the medium and its unique qualities. Gunpowder, which first came into use in the 9th century in China, has for over a millennium been witness to the change of dynasties and the ebb and flow of historical fortunes. But gunpowder brings not just war's ruin and destruction, but joy of celebration as well, in the lighting of fireworks. It crosses over the dichotomies of life and death, motion and stillness, and Cai's gunpowder blast works, which combine carefully planned sequences of explosions with unknown and unpredictable elements, highlight even further the clashes and contradictions of gunpowder's nature.

In a simultaneous explosion of fire, smoke and awe-inspiriting beauty, Cai Guo-qiang redefines and deconstructs the conventional methods of admiring and engaging with art. The concept of art that is 'creative destruction' is a newly coined term that attempts to classify the multifarious talents of Cai; one who pioneers the advancing spirit of creative innovation and freedom and an artist whom - with continuously new modes of material and expression -refuses to be confined by neither tradition, ideology nor nationality.

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