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Announcing “Cai Guo-Qiang: October” at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow


Venue: The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts main building (Volkhonka, 12, Moscow, Russia)
Exhibition dates: September 12 – November 12, 2017


October, calligraphy by Cai Guo-Qiang , 2017. Courtesy of Cai Studio

In September 2017, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts will present leading international contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s first solo exhibition in Russia: Cai Guo-Qiang: October. A reflection on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the ambitious body of work originally created for the exhibition will transform the main exhibition areas of the museum.

The exhibition is a comprehensive introduction of the artist’s diverse yet distinctive practice to the Russian art world and local audiences. Artworks include large-scale outdoor and indoor installations, gunpowder paintings, a multi-media video installation, and small-scale sculptures and sketches. Upon entering the courtyard, visitors are greeted by a grandiose outdoor installation on the central staircase leading to the entrance of the museum, titled Autumn. A man-made mountain composed of birch trees and hundreds of baby cradles donated by Moscow residents, towers over the visitors and offers an astounding visual impression. For some, it will evoke a famous scene from Battleship Potemkin (1925) by Sergei Eisenstein.


Cai Guo-Qiang, Sketch for Autumn, 2016. Courtesy of Cai Studio

The various artworks trace the artist’s personal journey: growing up in Communist China, later moving to Japan and now residing in the US, he has never ceased to expand his artistic activities to various parts of the world by collaborating with local communities, which is an important part of Cai Guo-Qiang’s projects. Ordinary people are often involved, and are able to relate to his artworks on a deeply personal level. In Moscow, Cai Guo-Qiang will continue to pursue this artistic methodology, and will create two 20-meter-long gunpowder paintings and one calligraphy on silk, all involving the participation of local residents. With his signature medium of gunpowder, Cai Guo-Qiang continues to transform this ancient Chinese invention, approaching it with modern technology and a contemporary attitude. His creative process comments on the continuity of history, its everlasting quality, which is also a theme evoked in this exhibition.

Marina Loshak, Director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts:
“The exhibition, dedicated to the Centenary of the Revolution, will be created in the form of a dialogue between contemporary art and the architecture of a classical museum, a finished work and the history of its creation, past events and the hopes of today.”

Conceived upon the centenary of the October Revolution, the exhibition considers the subjects of history, revolution and utopian dreams. According to Cai Guo-Qiang, “These topics should not stay as grand narratives of ideologies or social systems. Instead, we need to discuss more specifically how ‘the people’ is composed of many individuals. Whether prosperous or unfortunate, history is created by individuals, who must take responsibility and assume consequences. ‘Why do people have ideals?’ ‘How do we realize them?’ These kinds of questions are not only directed at the past, but also at the present. They are not only directed at China and Russia, but at the entire world.”


About the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is a museum complex that is currently in possession of the largest world art collections in Moscow, Russia. Today, around 700,000 art works from different epochs are present in the Pushkin museum’s collection, ranging from Ancient Egypt and Greece up until the beginning of XXI century. The assemblage of XIX-XX century French art is most exceptional in the museum and one of the most distinguished ones in the world. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art attempts to engage modernity and classic art works in a mutual dialogue, as well as offer its original perception on widely recognized art pieces.

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts Press Office
+7 916 457 91 13
Elena Antonova

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Cai Guo-Qiang Solo Painting Exhibition at the Prado Museum: Exploring the Spirit of Painting


Cai Guo-Qiang, Last Carnival, 2017. Gunpowder on canvas, 280 x 750 cm. Photo by Yvonne Zhao, courtesy Cai Studio

The Prado Museum announces a solo exhibition by contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Cai Guo-Qiang at the Prado: The Spirit of Painting will be open from October 24, 2017 to March 4, 2018. This will be the second solo exhibition by a living artist since the museum’s founding in 1819, following an exhibition by the late Cy Twombly organized in 2008. The Spirit of Painting is co-curated by the museum’s director Miguel Zugaza and senior curator Alejandro Vergara.

The Prado houses one of the world’s greatest painting collections, and holds the most comprehensive and definitive collection of Spanish painting and sculpture. It is especially known for its collection of works by Titian, Bosch, Rubens, El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya.


Cai Guo-Qiang, Mountain in Heat, 2016. Gunpowder on canvas, 239 x 450 cm. Photo by Yvonne Zhao, courtesy Cai Studio

Inspired by the spirit and glory of painting that resides in this 200-year old museum’s collection from the Spanish Golden Age, Cai Guo-Qiang embarks on a journey to discover the spirit of his own painting, and raises questions on the current predicaments of contemporary painting. By engaging in a dialogue with the Prado’s expert staff and collection, he strives to establish his roots in the painting tradition. Through the works in this exhibition, he seeks to re-envision the spirit of painting, while remaining true to his methods.

Visitors will learn about Cai Guo-Qiang’s enduring dialogue with El Greco, which has inspired him from a young age. This includes Cai’s early paintings that were heavily influenced by El Greco, and documentation from his 2009 pilgrimage that retraced El Greco’s life from his hometown in Crete, to Venice, Madrid, and finally to his resting place in Toledo.

Cai Guo-Qiang will use his unique artistic method to demonstrate his pursuit of the spirit of painting found in the techniques, subjects, and sensibilities of great masters such as Titian, El Greco, Velazquez, Rubens, and Goya. Through more than twenty gunpowder paintings of varying scale, visitors will witness the artist’s experimentation with painting techniques and local gunpowder materials, his sketches, and in depth research that reveal the process behind each paintings on display.


Cai Guo-Qiang, Palmyra, 2017. Gunpowder on canvas, 240 x 450 cm. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio

Beginning in late September this year, Cai Guo-Qiang will create the majority of paintings on-site in the historic Salón de Reinos (Hall of Realms). Over 400 years ago, Rey Planeta (King of the Planet) Philip IV received envoys from every realm in this formidable venue. He commissioned the most eminent painters in Spain and Europe, including Velazquez, to create paintings for the Salón de Reinos, engaging these masters in fierce artistic competition. The Hall was later transformed into a military museum. For Cai Guo-Qiang, creating gunpowder paintings in the Salón de Reinos becomes a site-specific event, one that travels through time, revisiting shadows of the distant past and challenging the imagination and creativity of the present day. At dusk on October 23, Cai Guo-Qiang will explode the immense artwork The Spirit of Painting, which will be the centerpiece of the exhibition.

José Pedro Pérez Llorca, President of the Royal Board of Trustees of the Prado Museum, and José Manuel Entrecanales, Executive Chairman of ACCIONA, signed an agreement of collaboration today to offer support for the exhibition. Director Zugaza and the artist would like to extend their sincere gratitude to Mr. Silas Chou and Elena & Alberto Cortina for their special contributions to the exhibition.


Cai Guo-Qiang, Detail of Last Carnival, 2017. Gunpowder on canvas, 280 x 750 cm. Photo by Lydia Ohl, courtesy Cai Studio

Exhibition Information
Cai Guo-Qiang at the Prado: The Spirit of Painting
Curator: Miguel Zugaza, Director of the Prado Museum; Co-Curator: Alejandro Vergara, Senior Curator at the Prado Museum
Organizer: Prado Museum
Location: Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
On-Site Creation: Late September, 2017 to October 23, 2017 at the Salón de Reinos, Madrid, Spain
VIP Opening: October 24, 2017
Exhibition Dates: October 25, 2017 to March 4, 2018

About the Prado Museum and the Salón de Reinos


The Prado was established in Madrid, Spain in 1819, and is recognized for having the world’s greatest collection of paintings; it is also the museum with the most comprehensive and definitive collection of Spanish painting and art. Its collection currently comprises more than 30,000 historically significant pieces, around 8,000 of which compose the highest quality collection of painting in the world. The Prado is especially renowned for its significant collection of Titian, Bosch, and Rubens, as well as its comprehensive collection of the three great painters of Spain: El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya. Since the 20th century, the Prado has continued to expand and renew itself, and is now the singular most important hallmark of Spanish culture and art.

The Salón de Reinos (Hall of Realms) was built between 1630-1635; it is one of the very few structures that remain of the Palacio del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Palace) of Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665). The name of the Hall originates from the coat of arms of the 24 kingdoms that composed the Kingdom of Spain under Philip IV. The Salón de Reinos once housed the largest collection of paintings owned by Spanish royalty, all of which have entered the Prado’s collection. It was later transformed into a military museum until the early 21st century, when the Spanish Ministry of Culture designated it to become part of the Prado. In 2016, the Prado announced that Pritzker Prize-winner architect Norman Foster would direct the renovation of the Hall, currently set to begin in late 2018. Philip IV once received the envoys of countless “realms” in the very space where Cai Guo-Qiang will create gunpowder paintings; he also commissioned the most eminent European painters at the time to create paintings for the space, including masterpieces such as Velazquez’s tour de force The Surrender of Breda.


Left: Computer rendering of the Salón de Reinos in the Buen Retiro Palace during the 17th centuryRight: Photo of the Salón de Reinos in the Buen Retiro Palace. Courtesy Museo del Prado

About the Artist


Cai in front of Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Spain, 2017. Photo by Javier Molina, courtesy Prado Museum

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, China. From 1981 to 1985, he trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy. His artistic expression spans multiple mediums including painting, installation, video, and performance. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and to the development of his signature explosion events. Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, these projects and events aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them, utilizing a site-specific approach to culture and history.

Cai’s accolades include the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, the Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007, and the 20th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2009. In 2012, He was honored as a laureate for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts in Painting by the prestigious Praemium Imperiale, an award that recognizes lifetime achievement in the arts in categories not covered by the Nobel Prize. In the same year, he was selected as one of the five artists who received the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts award for his outstanding commitment to international cultural exchange. His more recent honors include: the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Award in 2015, the Bonnefanten Award for Contemporary Art (BACA) 2016, the Japan Foundation Award in 2016, and the Asia Art Award in 2016. Cai also served as Director of Visual and Special Effects for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

For the past three decades, his art has been featured in almost all major international exhibitions, and he has held solo exhibitions in numerous world-famous art institutions, among them Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2006 and his retrospective I Want to Believe, which opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2008 and later travelled to the National Art Museum of China and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, among others. In October 2013, Cai created One Night Stand (Aventure d’un Soir), an explosion event for Nuit Blanche, a citywide art and culture festival organized by the city of Paris. Also in 2013, his solo exhibitionDa Vincis do Povo, went on a three-city tour around the country in 2013. Traveling from Brasilia to São Paulo before reaching its final destination in Rio de Janeiro, it was the most visited exhibition by a living artist worldwide that year with over one million visitors.

On June 15, 2015, Cai realized his most recent explosion event Sky Ladder off of Huiyu Island, Quanzhou, China. His latest solo exhibition, Cai Guo-Qiang: My Stories of Painting opened in September 2016 at the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht in the Netherlands.

He currently lives and works in New York.

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Cai Guo-Qiang Honored At The 2016 Japan Foundation Awards


Left to right: Hiroyasu Ando (President of the Japan Foundation), Cai Guo-Qiang and his wife Hong Hong Wu. Photo courtesy of Cai Qiongzhu

On October 18, Cai Guo-Qiang received the 2016 Japan Foundation Award in Tokyo, becoming the second artist after Ikuo Hirayama (1930 – 2009) to be honored with this award. Hundreds of distinguished guests attended the ceremony, including diplomats from 60 countries and 25 members of the Japanese House of Councilors. This year the Japan Foundation Award was also presented to Professor Susan J. Pharr (Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics and Director, Program on U.S.—Japan Relations, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University) and to the institution Centro Brasileiro de Língua Japonesa (CBLJ) in Brazil.

The annual Japan Foundation Awards were created in 1973 by the Japan Foundation, an independent administrative institution under the supervision of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With a 44-year history, the Awards comprise of a grant of 3 million yen. Over the years, they have been given to individuals as well as organizations that cultivate a mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and the world through academic, artistic, and other cultural endeavors. Previous notable Japanese recipients include Akira Kurosawa (1982), Seiji Ozawa (1988), Hayao Miyazaki (2005), and Haruki Murakami (2012).

The Japan Foundation devotes its attention to artists who contribute to promoting cultural exchange between Japan and other countries. On this occasion, the Foundation is recognizing Cai’s artistic practice around the globe, through which he creates works that integrate Eastern worldviews in dialogue with various regions including the Middle East and South America. Cai has always had a prominent presence in Japan. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, he has sponsored the Iwaki Manbon Sakura Project. In 2015, his large-scale solo exhibition There and Back Again opened at the Yokohama Museum of Art, and more recently in March 2016, he initiated an collaborative project in which he invited craftsmen to build a wooden boat in the pond in front of Todaiji Temple in Nara, alluding to the possibility of Japan and China “sailing” with each other’s support. The Japan Foundation not only recognizes the artist’s efforts in connecting different regions and civilizations, but also honors his contribution to consolidating a global culture that transcends national boundaries and artistic practices.


Cai Guo-Qiang speaking at the award ceremony. Photo courtesy of He Yilan.

The President of the Japan Foundation Hiroyasu Ando presented the Awards and the Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua attended the ceremony. In his reception speech, Cai stated:

“Every visit to Japan is a chance for me to think about the East, about Asia. In particular, the philosophical and artistic methodologies I’ve created with friends in Japan—methodologies that are multifaceted, harmonious, and coexist with nature in an East Asian context—have allowed me to move freely within different cultures, and create art in collaboration with different people.

I remember phoning Japanese costume designer Eiko Ishioka, inviting her to act as the director of costume design for the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony…To reassure her, I arranged for her office to be next to mine, so she only had to knock on the wall and I would be right over. I also asked my daughter, who speaks Japanese, to be her assistant, helping her out with her stay in China. The collaboration between Eiko Ishioka and the Chinese artists created the tremendous success of the Olympic opening ceremony.

A few years later, she passed away from an illness. Her husband told me that, in her final days, she had a picture of the ceremony director Zhang Yimou and myself up on the wall next to her bed.

Stories like the one I shared with Eiko Ishioka, as well as my experiences in Japan and throughout the world, all serve to prove how exchanges between individuals and cultures can transcend history, overcome political strife, and build a little bit of hope for the future.”


Left to right: Hiroyasu Ando (President of the Japan Foundation), Hong Hong Wu, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Cheng Yonghua (Chinese Ambassador to Japan). Photo courtesy of He Yilan.


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My Stories Of Painting Opening In The Netherlands


Cai Guo-Qiang, Boy’s Doodle: Drawing for the 25th Anniversary of the EU in Maastricht, 2016. Gunpowder on paper, 138 x 214 cm

Cai Guo-Qiang: My Stories of Painting
September 29 2016: Exhibition Opening and Presentation of the Bonnefanten Award 2016

Maastricht 23.08.2016 – On 29 September, the Bonnefanten Award for Contemporary Art 2016 (BACA) will be presented to Cai Guo-Qiang (1957, Quanzhou, Fujian, China). The BACA is the most important award for international visual art presented in the Netherlands, and it is awarded every two years since 2000. Consisting of a sum of 50,000 Euros, a publication and a solo exhibition, the Award is a tribute to a living non-Western artist with an exceptional oeuvre and a demonstrable influence on other artists, exhibition makers and art professionals. The Bonnefantenmuseum is presenting Cai Guo-Qiang’s first solo exhibition in the Netherlands: My Stories of Painting  (30.09.2016 – 01.05.2017)


Left: Cai Guo-Qiang, Self-Portriat, 1983. Oil on canvas, 40 x 31 cm. Photo courtesy of Cai Studio. Right: Cai Guo-Qiang with Ascending Dragon: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 2, Japan, 1989. Photo courtesy of Cai Studio

Cai Guo-Qiang: My Stories of Painting

My Stories of Painting is the first exhibition that will focus on Cai’s long journey of painting in terms of two parallel paths. The first traces his restless exploration in painting by presenting over a hundred works of various periods, scales and mediums — many of which are shown for the first time. The exhibition begins with his time in China: watercolours and oil paintings, school assignments, experimental paintings, and oil paintings with gunpowder; followed by his time in Japan: paintings created only with gunpowder, and gunpowder drawings for explosion events; it then moves on to his time in New York and the global stage — works reflecting his unique challenge to the issue of painting through his consistent artistic methodology, including recent pieces following his return to creating independent gunpowder paintings. Evolving from black gunpowder to color gunpowder, this new stage registers the artist’s unrestrained pursuit of his childhood dream to become a painter as well as his confrontation with the integral challenges of contemporary painting.

The second path is that of his family: his grandmother, parents, wife, and daughters. Through their paintings, photography, and other works, viewers can see how generation after generation, the artist’s family accompanies and mutually influences Cai. In addition to the exhibition’s scholarly consideration of the artist’s paintings, the viewers will experience the intimate and arduous sides of a painter’s journey. Crossing the boundaries between cultures, the exhibition will resonate widely with audiences, and will be an important milestone in Cai’s decades-long exploration of painting.


Top: Cai Guo-Qiang’s father teaching his grandmother calligraphy, Quanzhou, date unknown; Cai Ruiqin (Father), Untitled (Matchbox Drawings), date unknown. Ink, pen, and pencil on cardboard matchboxes, dimensions variable; Painting of Ci-En Temple where Cai Guo-Qiang’s mother would go to pray. Photo by Ron Amstutz, courtesy of Cai Studio*Bottom: Hong Hong Wu (Wife), Sea Breeze, date unknown. Oil on canvas, 33 x 46 cm; Wenhao Cai (Younger Daughter), Wenhao’s Dream: Creative Sketches for Shanghai Disney Resort, 2015. Set of 26 drawings; oil pastel on paper; each 21.6 x 27.9 cm; Wen-You Cai (Elder Daughter), With the Whole Family, in Preparation of Burning Grandfather’s Paper House for his Afterlife, 2016. C-print; 40.6 x 61 cm. Quanzhou, China.
*All other photos Courtesy of Cai Studio.


Cai Guo-Qiang, Poppy Series: Hallucination No.1, 2015. Gunpowder on canvas,183 x 608 cm. Private Collection.


Cai Guo-Qiang: My Stories of Painting will be accompanied by a catalogue of the same title, available in English and Dutch published by Walther König Publisher. It includes essays by Cai Guo-Qiang, Bonnefantenmuseum director Stijn Huijts, as well as the former director M+ museum in Hong Kong, Lars Nittve.

Bonnefanten Award for Contemporary Art (BACA) 2016

In presenting the exhibition and publication by BACA laureate Cai Guo-Qiang, the Bonnefantenmuseum is once again drawing attention to an exceptional and influential oeuvre within contemporary art and introducing the public to a relevant, yet for many people an unfamiliar chapter of art history. Cai Guo-Qiang was awarded the BACA 2016 by a unanimous vote. The international selection committee for 2016 comprised of Cao Fei (artist), Stijn Huijts (Bonnefantenmuseum director), William Lim (architect, collector), Carol Lu (curator, writer), Lars Nittve (former director M+ Museum Hong Kong) and Uli Sigg (collector).

Invitation to the press preview

The museum invites members of the press to the preview of Cai Guo-Qiang: My Stories of Painting on Thursday 29 September between 11:00am – 12:30pm. Please rsvp via For further information and visual material, please contact Lieke Heijmans, +31(0) 6 27 494 829,

For more information about the artist and the exhibition, please visit:


The BACA and Cai Guo-Qiang: My Stories of Painting receives generous support from the Province of Limburg, DSM, the Bankgiro Loterij, the Mondriaan Fund,  the VSBFonds, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.

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Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang Receives Critical Acclaim Following Worldwide Release



Film stills taken from documentary Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, all images courtesy Netflix

On October 13, 2016, Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang—the first full-length documentary feature on Cai Guo-Qiang—premiered at Sotheby’s New York headquarters, attended by more than two hundred distinguished guests. As of October 14, the film appears in cinemas in New York and Los Angeles and is distributed in 190 countries via Netflix. Sky Ladder instantly caught the attention of the press and was reviewed by nearly fifty publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Vogue.


“Some of Cai Guo-Qiang’s art exists for mere moments. But my, how long it sticks in the mind. That enchantment is at the center of ‘Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang,’ a documentary that is as rewarding as this artist’s work.”
“It’s no spoiler to reveal that ‘Sky Ladder,’ the art project, eventually succeeds, and its fleeting existence is magnificent. It says something about the work, and perhaps about life, that brevity adds an element that’s both magical and saddening.”
“Though if you watch Mr. Cai’s works on video, you can always rewind.”  —The New York Times

“A documentary that begs to be seen in a theater…‘Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang’ offers an inviting glimpse into the life of a truly international artist, one whose colorful fireworks displays literally paint the air…Kevin Macdonald’s beautifully shot, quietly hovering portrait is of a pensive, dogged man…”  —The Los Angeles Times

“The documentary Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang was shot by Wes Anderson collaborator Robert Yeoman, who captures the beautiful, cacophonous (even terrifying) explosions, and the more sedentary moments of Cai’s everyday life with equal grace.”  —Vogue

“Nothing typifies the toweringly celestial ambition of the Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang than his ‘sky ladder’, a project over 20 years in the making.”  —The Guardian

“Cai’s grandmother watches [Sky Ladder] unfold via an iPad, after which the artist breathlessly asks her, ‘Isn’t your grandson awesome?’ It’s a beautiful, touching moment that says more about the artistic urge than any scholarly tome ever could.”  —Hollywood Reporter

“Perhaps Cai‘s most compelling, personal work yet… As the massive sculpture ignites, it creates a fiery vision that miraculously ascends to the heavens…Chances to see such work in person are rare, but the film offers something even more special…”  —Artnet News

“Macdonald effectively draws lines between his subject’s past and his present, attempting to make sense of what his harshest critics see as self-serving contradictions. In a way, it’s all of a piece, embracing the best and worst of an ever-changing nation.”  —AV Club

“[…] the film hopes to catch the eye of Oscar voters. And frankly it stands a great chance of being nominated for Best Documentary, with its astute coverage of the artist, his groundbreaking work, his family, including his 100-year-old grandmother, and Mao’s China.”  —Blasting News

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang is scheduled to be released in China in November.


Watch the Film:
In Theaters:
IFC Center (New York)
Show times: October 14 – 20, 1:15pm, 2:50pm, 4:25pm, 6:05pm
Address: 323 6th Ave, New York, NY 10014
Ticket purchase:

Playhouse 7 (Los Angeles)
Show times: October 14 – 20, 11:00am, 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 6:00pm, 8:00pm, 10:00pm
Address: 673 East Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91101
Ticket purchase:

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Sky Ladder: An Explosive Documentary On Artist Cai Guo-Qiang





















Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang is a narrative documentary film directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald and produced by Wendi Deng Murdoch, Hugo Shong, and Fisher Stevens. The 70-minute feature will debut as a Netflix original film, and will be available in over 190 countries starting October 14, 2016. It will be the first full-length documentary feature on Cai, one of the world’s most influential contemporary artists.

The documentary will also be on view in New York from October 14 – 20 at the IFC Center:
323 6th Ave, New York, NY 10014
1:15 pm, 2:50 pm, 4:25 pm, 6:05 pm


Known for his work with gunpowder and fireworks, Cai Guo-Qiang’s explosive artwork has long amazed audiences all over the world. His works, which include drawings, paintings, installations, and explosion events, have been exhibited in almost every major art destination around the globe. While founded in Eastern philosophy, his artistic projects adopt ever-expanding forms of artistic expression and interpretation that respond to local cultures, histories, and various issues in modern society.

Director Kevin Macdonald spent two years with Cai, taking an in-depth look at the artist’s work and daily life while following him from New York to Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Beijing, Liuyang, and his hometown of Quanzhou. Told through the eyes of family, friends, collaborators, art experts, and Cai himself, along with rare footage selected from the artist’s archives, Sky Ladder follows Cai’s meteoric rise on the international stage. It is a dazzling journey that culminates in his becoming an artist known for “lighting fires” all over the world: highlighted by the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, his 2008 Guggenheim solo exhibition in New York, the 2013 explosion event One Night Stand on the banks of the Seine, the 2014 daytime explosion event Elegy in Shanghai—among many others. The film also delves into the harsh realities behind these spectacular visions: the struggles, compromises, vulnerabilities, love and family ties, as well as the artist’s complex and profound feelings toward his home and country.



Top: Cai Guo-Qiang with his wife Hong Hong Wu and daughters arriving at Huiyu Island. Photo by Daxin Wu, courtesy Cai Studio; Bottom: Sky Ladder preparation process, 2015. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio

At the heart of the film is Sky Ladder, a 500-meter ladder of golden flames that hissed and roared its way from the shore of a small fishing village in Quanzhou up into the blue sky and the infinite universe beyond. This is the realization of Cai’s childhood dream—a dream to connect with the stars—one that has been attempted multiple times around the world, and one that he never stopped pursuing despite countless obstacles. In June 2015, he made yet another attempt. At dawn, with help from Chinese technical experts and hundreds of local villagers, Cai dedicated Sky Ladder as a gift to his one hundred-year-old grandmother and to his beloved hometown.

A story of one individual artist and his singular dream, Sky Ladder is also a film about undeniably universal human emotions. It has the power to move audiences from any culture or nation, as proven by responses at both the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and the 2016 BFI London Film Festival.


About the Filmmakers

Director Kevin Macdonald’s works include Academy Award Best Documentary One Day in September(1999), BAFTA Best British Film Touching the Void (2003), and Academy Award-winning feature film The Last King of Scotland (2006). Executive Producer Bennet Miller is known for directing Capote (2005), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA; Moneyball (2011), which received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture; and Foxcatcher (2014), for which he won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. Executive Producer Angus Wall is known for The Social Network(2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), for both of which he won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Producers include Wendi Deng Murdoch (television producer and co-founder of online art platform Artsy), Fisher Stevens (director and producer of over thirty films, including 2010 Academy Award Best Documentary The Cove), and Hugo Shong (Founding General Partner of IDG Capital Partners and renowned Chinese film producer). Assistant Director and Co-producer Xia Shanshan has worked with Cai Guo-Qiang for many years, and has produced numerous art documentaries including What About the Art? Contemporary Art from China (2016). Director of Photography Robert Yeoman is a longtime collaborator of world-renowned filmmaker Wes Anderson. He was the director of photography for numerous critically acclaimed features including Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

Show Times, New York, October 14 – 20:
IFC Center, 1:15 pm, 2:50 pm, 4:25 pm, 6:05 pm
323 6th Ave, New York, NY 10014

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Happy New Year and Cai Guo-Qiang in Argentina

Dear Cai Studio friends,

We hope each and every one of you enjoyed a pleasant holiday season surrounded by your loved ones.

Cai and the team recently came back from Buenos Aires, where his exhibition Impromptu opened to the public at Fundación Proa and will remain on view until March 1, 2015. The exhibition includes new series of gunpowder drawings on paper and gunpowder paintings on canvas, as well as two new art installations. In conjunction with the exhibition, Cai will also create a new large-scale explosion event Life is a Milonga: Tango Fireworks for Argentina that will take place in front of Fundación Proa at Vuelta de Rocha on January 24, 2015.

For Cai’s statements about the exhibition and the explosion event in Buenos Aires, keep reading below…

Cai Guo-Qiang and volunteers rushing in to put out flames from ignition of gunpowder drawing Sentinels of the Enchanted Valley, Galpón de la Boca, Buenos Aires, 2014. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai Guo-Qiang and volunteers rushing in to put out flames from ignition of gunpowder drawing Sentinels of the Enchanted Valley, Galpón de la Boca, Buenos Aires, 2014. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

“For this exhibition, I set a small but ambitious goal: How can I push myself and improve my gunpowder drawings?

In recent years, I have worked in different places around the world, initiating dialogues with different cultures and people through collaboration. By absorbing nutrients from the land I work in, I have perfected a methodology, which has allowed me to create a body of work that revolves around different themes with relative ease and familiarity.

My exploratory journey in Argentina has not been smooth. The more I learn about the country, the more confused I become. Her culture, the integration of immigrants with this piece of land have made me feel lost and perplexed. As my work here materialized in a more spontaneous and organic manner, the exhibition is titled Impromptu. Sure enough, the gunpowder here is difficult to handle: if I use too little, it does not catch on fire; however, if I use too much, it ignites with ruthless ferocity. At times, the bricks and cardboard that covered the drawing sizzled when they were cast aside after the explosion! Flames erupted time after time as I watched, and the drawings were set ablaze. The outcome was far from what I imagined; after this experience, I cannot help but admit that I do not have great control. Yet secretly I felt both a youthful impetuousness and an irrepressible excitement. It must have been twenty years since I last experienced this pain and pleasure simultaneously! I started to question myself –– why am I afraid of burning holes through the drawing? Don’t the burnt parts add to the presence of the medium itself? I saw more… and it may have opened another door to freedom.

Argentina and her people baffled me, bringing me both anxieties and surprises: the natural landscapes that are completely different from one another; the diverse styles of milongas and dancers; the guidance I received from choreographers and musicologists; along with the assistance and warmth of nearly 100 volunteers from Universidad Nacional de las Artes (UNA) and Instituto Municipal de Cerámica de Avellaneda.  Fundación PROA’s courage lies in that they are willing to go on an adventure with me, bearing the consequences of my impromptu works, which may or may not live up to the title of the exhibition. I am like a seed sown on this land, now growing and bearing fruit after absorbing the sunshine, water and love from the people here.”

The first work that visitors encounter in the exhibition is Life is a Milonga, an installation comprising of nine ceramic figurines of couples swaying in the air, dancing the tango to the recognizable rhythm of “La Cumparsita” playing melancholically from music boxes. From the ceiling, nine bar stools hang upside-down, supporting the swings that carry the figurines.

“After visiting several milongas, I observed several different types of behaviors: there were people sitting on the sides waiting to join the dance; people walking over to join the dance; and a mélange with people, lights and music of all sorts—dancers grouped in diverse combinations, swaying and moving in tandem. Through this installation work, I hope to express my uncertain yet boundless impressions of the milonga, and the lives of the people in it.

The swaying swings form a relationship with the music boxes, which play La Cumparsita at different speeds, as though they are vocalizing everyone’s thoughts, aspirations and sorrows. Associated with people’s childhoods and fantasies, the swings, too, have an air of mystique.”

A new series of gunpowder drawings inspired by Argentinian landscapes is presented in Gallery 2. The works reflect Cai’s impressions during his visits to the Misiones and Salta regions in the north of Argentina.

Exhibition view at Fundación Proa. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Exhibition view at Fundación Proa. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Sentinels of the Enchanted Valley, gunpowder on paper, 300 x 1600 cm. Exhibition view at Fundación Proa. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Sentinels of the Enchanted Valley, gunpowder on paper, 300 x 1600 cm. Exhibition view at Fundación Proa. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

“The colossal sizes of the drawings turn them into spatial works, allowing viewers to enter the scene of the drawing. The content of each drawing and the relationship between them reflect the experiences I had when exploring the landscapes of Argentina, feeling the country’s land with my body and taking a stroll in its geographical and cultural landscapes. When making the drawings, I used my body to experience the landscapes again: the mountain ranges of Cachi, where fog constantly comes and goes, and the spiky cacti that absorb moisture from the fog; the boundless Iguazú Falls that have no beginning and no end; and the cemetery where the eternal “residents” slumber in harmony on the distant plateau of Cachi. There I met a family and helped them repaint their parents’ graves with a few strokes of new paint.

When I made the drawings, the paper was laid on the floor. I used my arms and hands to rub and push gunpowder; then I decided where to ignite the fuse and where to add weight on top of the drawing to intensify the explosion. This process allowed me to experience once more both the visible and the unseen energies in the landscapes, reinitiating my conversation with nature. The explosion enabled me to revisit the relationships in energy: the cascading waterfalls; the rising water vapor; the rain that follows; how they sculpt the movement in valleys and so on.”

The latest iteration of Cai’s ongoing exploration of painting traditions, a new series of six gunpowder paintings on canvas, titled Impromptu, is presented in gallery 3.

Impromptu, gunpowder on canvas, variable dimensions. Exhibition view at Fundación Proa. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

Impromptu, gunpowder on canvas, variable dimensions. Exhibition view at Fundación Proa. Photo by Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio.

“These six works on canvas are a mystery and an unknown that I left for myself. When I work on an exhibition, I usually leave one gallery with an uncertain outcome, so I can surprise myself and create some anxiety for myself when encountering this unknown. I intentionally made the canvases tall and narrow, so the proportions are similar to altarpieces, alluding to Southern European Medieval and Renaissance painting. I referenced the atmosphere in paintings by El Greco—one of my favorite painters—and added tango dancers dancing at different speeds; I also selected images of nearly 100 small wooden animal carvings that I fell deeply in love with at Iguazú. The Guaraní people use burn marks on the wooden animal carvings, which inspired me to use gunpowder to create their images. Multiple timelines and diverse cultural characteristics appear in these vertical compositions. Although these disparate elements form a certain disharmony, they capture precisely my perception of and bewilderment toward Argentina. Because of this, I am most moved by the spirit and temperament of these works, brought about by these independent and chaotic energies.

It is thanks to the hard work and emotional intelligence of dozens of volunteers from the Universidad Nacional de las Artes (UNA) that these groups of works are grounded in this land.”



January 24, 2015; 8pm

Ephemeral event to be realized at Vuelta de Rocha, La Boca, Buenos Aires
In front of: Fundación PROA
Av Pedro de Mendoza 1929
Buenos Aires
, Argentina

Proposal for Life is a Milonga: Tango Fireworks for Argentina, 2014. Courtesy Cai Studio.

Proposal for Life is a Milonga: Tango Fireworks for Argentina, 2014. Courtesy Cai Studio.

“My first visit to Buenos Aires took place in March of 2014. The history of Buenos Aires as a port deeply inspired me, and I was especially touched by the immigrant legacy of the neighborhood of La Boca and its rich cultural traditions. The idea of creating a tribute to Argentinean history and tango immediately emerged. La Boca’s creative past still reverberates at each street and corner. It is my hope to use this opportunity to invite the public of Buenos Aires to tap once again into this rich vein; hence my proposal combines the power of history, dance and contemporary visual art. Using my signature aesthetic language, the artwork will use fireworks as a medium and will actively engage the public as participants.

For Tango Fireworks, I am using a brand new approach to pyrotechnic design. During the creative process, I invited experts such as musicologists, choreographers and dancers to collaborate with me. I used video to record the dancers’ movements and the movement of the bandoneón from many different angles, so that I could use the dancers’ steps and body movements to design the fireworks. The fireworks will appear over the water of Vuelta de Rocha, imitating the dancers’ and the bandoneón’s motions. On January 24, 2015, the public will be invited to watch and dance along to Tango Fireworks in front of Fundación PROA, transforming Vuelta de Rocha once again into a pulsating hub of creative energy.

Vuelta de Rocha was one of the earliest ports of entry for immigrants in Buenos Aires, and it bore witness to the new migrants’ hope, disillusionment, anxieties and excitement. At this port, different cultures interwove to generate new traditions and artistic creations, and Tango is a great example of such an extraordinary phenomenon. By presenting the chronological development of the music and the dance, Tango Fireworks also attempts to reflect upon the sea of changes undergone throughout Argentina’s history as a nation over the twentieth century.”

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