Cai Guo-Qiang: Move Along, Nothing to See Here served as the inaugeral program for the Year of China. Works by the internationally renowned artist were on display at the Cohen Gallery in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts from September 14 – Oct 28, 2011. The exhibit was curated by Wendy Edwards and Jo-Ann Conklin, with support provided by the Creative Arts Council, the David Winton Bell Gallery, and the Department of Visual Art, Brown University, and the Year of China.
Cai first came to the attention in the West for his spectacular use of gunpowder as an artistic medium. A Chinese invention, gunpowder is associated with celebrations—employed in fireworks during the lunar New Year and other festive occasions in China—and, obviously, with violence and war. Throughout his career Cai has addressed the violence of the age in which we live, in works referencing the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the conflict between Taiwan and mainland China, 9/11, and seemingly never ending acts of terrorism.
Move Along, Nothing to See Here, the sculptural centerpiece of the exhibition, takes its title from the phrase used by police and other authority figures to deter onlookers from lingering at accidents and other “spectacles.” The work consisted of two 12 foot-long crocodiles cast in resin, realistically painted, and pierced with several thousand sharp objects—knives, forks, nail clippers, and the like—that were confiscated at airport-security checkpoints in New York. The sculpture elicits a two-fold sense of menace: the threat represented by these powerful and dangerous animals is compounded by the violence of the attack on them. This is one of a number of works—tigers pierced by arrows, exploding cars—in which the artist responds to terrorism (here, specifically, to 9/11). Cai has described his approach as “a frank look at society today and cultural/political issue we have to deal with.”
Two gunpowder works completed the exhibition. A related drawing entitled Snapping Crocodile was creating by capturing the vestiges of a gunpowder explosion on paper. Clear Sky Black Cloud documents an explosion event on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Each day at noon, a single explosion created a small black smoke cloud that floated over Central Park, much like a drawing in the sky. In contrast to his many elaborate explosion events, Clear Sky Black Cloud was elegantly simple.
Drawing on feng shui and Eastern philosophy, Cai’s works address increasingly universal questions of concern to humankind as a whole while remaining rooted in a uniquely Chinese outlook on the universe and Asian though and philosophy.
Cai Guo-Qiang has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, among others. His mid-career retrospective I Want to Believe opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2008 before traveling to the National Art Museum of China in Beijing and the Guggenheim Bilbao. Cai was awarded the Golden Lion award at the 48th Venice Biennale, and later curated the first Chinese Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. He also gained widespread attention as Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
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