Faces of New China: An Important Private Collection

(Chinese, B. 1957)
Drawing for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation: Ode to Joy
inscribed, titled, signed and dated in Chinese; signed 'Cai' in Pinyin; dated '2002' (lower right)
gunpowder on paper, diptych
each: 300 x 200 cm. (118 x 78 3/4 in.)
overall: 300 x 400 cm. (118 x 157 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2002
Christie's Hong Kong, 25 November 2007, Lot 487
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Shanghai Fine Arts Publisher, Cai Guo-Qiang, exh. cat., Shanghai, China, 2002 (illustrated and creation process illustrated, pp. 53-67). Artist Publishing Co., Cai Guo-Qiang, Taipei, Taiwan, 2005 (exhibition view illustrated, p. 115; illustrated, p. 117).
IVAM Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, Cai Guo-Qiang, Valencia, Spain, 2005.
Oriental Art Magazine Publisher, Oriental Art , Beijing, China, June, 2007.
Guggenheim Museum & Centre of International Cultural Exchange, Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe (Chinese Version), New York, USA, 2008 (illustrated, plate 15.14, pp. 126-127).
Guggenheim Museum, Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe (English Version), New York, USA, 2008 (illustrated, plate 15.14, p. 121).
Art Publishing House, Cai Guo-Qiang, New China, New Arts: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Artists, Taipei, Taiwan, 2010 (illustrated, p. 77).
Shanghai, China, Shanghai Art Museum, Cai Guo-Qiang, February 1-March 1, 2002.
New York, USA, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe, February, 2008.

Brought to you by

Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

Cai Guo-qiang's Artistic Coordinates
The achievements of Cai Guo-Qiang remain unmatched by any other Asian contemporary artist: today, Cai Guoqiang's creations, the venues where they are shown, and related critical commentary can be found across continents in the world. Awareness of this artist's has spread far beyond Asia; his work is now also a focus of attention in the cultural centers of the US and Europe. From an Asian critical standpoint, Cai Guo-Qiang represents a completely fresh, new outlook with roots in Eastern culture. The significance of his work makes him a standard-setter in contemporary Asian art, while at the same time capturing the brilliance of Asia's ongoing artistic renaissance. But mainstream critical opinion in the West, among those who like to tease out stylistic roots and derivations, has been that Cai's work is a response to Western themes. He is seen as harking back to US or European artists like Yves Klein and Joseph Beuys, who, after abstract expressionism and minimalism had peaked in the post-war period, found new creative directions by shifting the focus of attention to humanistic and social themes of contemporary concern. So while Asian critics see in Cai's work the traces of Asian cultural heritage, Western critics have detected modern Western concepts. But Asian and Western critics alike have acknowledged his originality, his significant breakthroughs, and his unusual fusion of traditional and contemporary. The unusual crossover elements in Cai's art, its meaning, and the distinctive territorial coordinates it has established make it unique in the contemporary arena, while the creative powers it reveals reach across established boundaries and connect with both Eastern and Western sensibilities.
Cai's ability to reach across East-West boundaries is a reflection of the broad vision of this artist. Faced with the themes and vocabularies of modern Western art, Asian artists have typically displayed one of three attitudes: interest, contentious reaction, or attempts to surpass or transcend their Western counterparts. But Cai Guo-qiang, refusing to let himself be restricted to a single artistic tradition, either Eastern or Western, found a new path. He wanted to know if there was a way to move beyond the narrow comparisons of East and West. Was there some kind of broader context, something that could provide a broader vision? So he began to think beyond polarized dichotomies such as East and West, or tradition and modernity. In his intellectual roaming he made connections with different cultures and systems of thought, and thereby created an altered artistic landscape. Cai's landscape is in many respects rooted in the wisdom of the East, yet it embraces global culture and universal values. The vertical axis of Cai's artistic coordinates is formed by his awareness of the endless gulfs of time that stretch from the ancient past to the present, and the way he incorporates the philosophies of different ages; the horizontal axis stretches across the starry fields of the sky and the societies scattered across the globe, seeking possibilities for cultural dialogue and convergence. Cai reexamines his world from the exceptionally broad and lofty vantage point at the convergence of those axes. His themes, his takes on events, represent a universal human standpoint, giving his work a concern for universal social values and the notion of collective consciousness as a product of human history. From these also derive Cai's unique understanding, his penetrating observation, and his reflection on contemporary human life.
Cai's work was informed by the above concepts for a period of nearly 20 years, from the 1980s to about 2000. During this period he created three major series, the Projects for Extraterrestrials, Projects for Humankind, and Projects for the 20th Century, as well as other independent gunpowder-based projects. These works were each independent experiments in which Cai explored different concepts through the recreation of signal events and milestones in human history.
In 2002, the upcoming APEC meeting provided Cai with the opportunity, through his Fourteen Drawings for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) , to both summarize and offer a retrospective look at his many previous individual works. At the invitation of the APEC organization, he carefully designed 14 paintings, each with a different theme and aesthetic purpose. The result was his largest-scale gunpowder blast paintings up to that time, a set of works in which each resonates with the others. The 14 paintings of the set each represent an important concept that Cai had touched upon during the previous 20 years of his career. Taken together, the different viewpoints and facets of his work on display reveal Cai's concepts with an unprecedented breadth and depth, making this set of 14 works one of the summits of his creative career.
For this season's Christie's Evening Sale, three representative works have been selected from among the 14, each connected with an important concept in Cai Guo-qiang's creative system. The first presents us with view of the world as seen from the cosmos itself, across vast distances of time and space. This view is represented by Cai's Imagining the Universe (Lot 1036), which reflects the concepts of the Projects for Extraterrestrials series. The concept behind another work, UFO (Lot 1035), emphasizes human interaction and dialogue with the star systems of the cosmos, which links it with both the Projects for Extraterrestrials series and the Projects for Humankind series. Beyond those themes, UFO is also an exploration of aesthetics, revealing the painterly aspects of Cai's art and his way with line and abstraction. The presence of figurative elements in the third work, Ode to Joy (Lot 1034), makes it somewhat unusual compared with Cai's output as a whole. With a more rigorous form and composition, Ode to Joy meditates on human civilization and urban culture, reviewing history from very much a human point of view, in contrast to the cosmic and stellar viewpoints Imagining the Universe and UFO. Among Cai's many works, Ode to Joy is also rare in displaying the kind of grand vista and harmonious vision that are specially to be found in Chinese art. This gives the work a more powerful connection with China in the geographic and cultural sense, as well as making it a bridge to the later works that would come after 2002. After that year, Cai shifted toward a concern with social topics, sometimes only a single current event, and often in a unusual areas: Transient Rainbow and Ethereal Flowers, for example, both from 2002, deal with the terrorist attacks of September 11. Viewed within Cai Guo-qiang's creative career as a whole, then, the Fourteen Drawings for the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Cityscape Fireworks are significant as a recapitulation of his earlier concepts from 1980 to 2000, while linking them with the works that would come afterwards. The APEC Drawings focus on the distinctive culture of a single region, conveying an optimistic vision of China on the brink of the 21st century, an artistic outlook that both resonates with and helped spark Cai's later explorations into social themes in his work after 2002.
Gunpowder Art and Traditional Chinese Literati Paintings
The overall concept of Cai ' s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cityscape Fireworks centers around the idea of gunpowder explosions as used in traditional Chinese ceremonies, to ask for blessings. In this case, the blessing to be bestowed was an auspicious future for China on the eve of the 21st century. Among the drawings in this set, Ode to Joy (Lot 1034) perhaps most directly conveys this concept. Ode to Joy is based on the fireworks display that unfolded across 23 buildings on the Bund in Shanghai, outlining their shapes in geometric lines of fireworks that helped set off and enhance the grand and brilliant display in the sky above the city. The effect of Cai's gunpowder blasts creates enshrouding smoke and mists, just as in traditional Chinese landscapes, and puts on display the special grandeur and romanticism that kind of traditional Chinese art. Ode to Joy differs from the other two works here, being one of the few in Cai's output to have elements that are so clearly figurative and scenic. In Cai's work, especially during his early period, gunpowder drawings were visual representations of the artist's conceptions of his events, but gradually, as his explosive technique improved and as his aesthetic conceptions matured, the drawings acquired more complex compositions and more expressive lines and layerings of color, eventually becoming independent works in their own right, with their own unique aesthetic. Ode to Joy, with its more rigorous control over form and composition, can be seen as one of the most complete and representative expressions of this trend in Cai's art. The artist used precisely gauged techniques and ingenious design to create gunpowder blasts with varying degrees of force, and in combination with the use of paper, stones, and cardboard moldings, created a variety of lines and graded layerings of color. These simulate the vista of the thriving city of Shanghai, even as their visual effects echo classic works such as the Nine Dragons Handscroll (Fig.1) by Chen Rong or Fan Kuan's Sitting Alone by a Stream (Fig.2), where haloes of ink spread across paper and create the wreaths of mist and smoke in which these artists present their grand imaginative spaces and visions. In this we can see how successful Cai has been in finding points of convergence between his gunpowder blast art and the scenic paintings of the great Chinese literati painters of the past.
Urban Civilization and Perspectives on Human History
Examining Ode to Joy more closely, in terms of its thematic meaning, is a revealing exercise. Ode to Joy depicts the Shanghai cityscape at a colorful moment of ceremony and celebration, and considers the meaning of history and human civilization in the light of this urban scene. Cities have always brought together the quintessential elements of the civilizations they represent. Early on, they began as small clusters of tribal groups, but as populations swelled and interactions between these groups flourished, small communities merged to form ever larger ones. The resulting congregations led to continuing advances in governments, economies, and culture and science, giving birth to what we think of as urban civilization. In both Chinese and Western history, urban civilization often served as an index how well developed and successful the culture was as a whole. Cities often developed their own unique cultural modalities that were then exported and influenced entire regions and nations. The development and decay of cities, their rise and fall, have been the coordinates by which historical development and the turning points of civilizations have been judged. Cai's creative career has included a number of projects for celebrations in different cities, in which urban civilization has figured as a creative point of focus. One example was his 1994 Project for Heianky's 1,200th Anniversary: Congratulations from Chang An (Fig. 3), for Japan's ancient capital; another was his 2004 Reflection-A Gift from Iwaki (Fig. 4), on the theme of various ports of foreign trade at China's Chuanzhou and other cities. The creation of Ode to Joy continued the thread of the works described above, each of which paid respect to cities of representative historical significance in human civilization, and it symbolized as well a new outlook for the Chinese people as they stood on the brink of a new century. Its inspiration derived from the history and culture of a single place, but for Cai, its creative concepts would find even further expression and development in the years after 2002, and in that respect, it helped open the following chapters of Cai Guoqiang's career. The viewpoint of Ode to Joy begins with a human community, representing the history and civilizations of humanity. It stands alongside the interstellar, universal history presented in Imagining the Universe and the history of human expansion and search for new life experiences presented in UFO. These three histories-of humanity, of the universe, and of life-illustrate, as significant representatives of Cai's output, the immense breadth of the artist's system of thought and historical imagination.

More from Faces of New China: An Important Private Collection (Evening Sale)

View All
View All