Cai Guo-Qiang’s Odyssey and Homecoming at the Newly Opened Museum of Art Pudong

Process of Encounter with the Unknown in Liuyang, 2021. Photo by Gu Kenryou, courtesy Cai Studio

The Museum of Art Pudong (MAP) just opened its doors to the public with Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming alongside an exhibition devoted to Joan Miro and another to works from the Tate Collection. Built to become a new cultural landmark in Shanghai, MAP decided to present 119 of the Cai’s signature gunpowder paintings and other works, including his first-ever VR piece, Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City and a newly commissioned kinetic light installation, Encounter with the Unknown.

Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, 2021. Photo by Gu Kenryou, courtesy Cai Studio

The exhibition encompasses the museum’s three floors and is divided into two sections: “Odyssey” and “Homecoming”. The first section is dedicated to Cai’s dialogue and engagement with Western art through works from his solo exhibitions in world-renowned institutions. Some of these include his “In the Volcano” exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples curated by Jérôme Neutres, where Cai had initiated a dialogue with classical Greek and Roman art. Others include his explorations into the Italian Renaissance at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence; his engagement with the Spanish Golden Age and Baroque Art at the Prado Museum in Madrid; a homage to Soviet painter Konstantin Maksimov in his exhibition at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow; and his investigations on Modernism at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. 

Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition at MAP marks an important event in the artist’s personal history as Shanghai is where he was first exposed to works by foreign painters, which influenced Cai’s Individual’s Journey Through Western Art History. He states that “The Odyssey is also a search for a greater hometown. I seek to encounter more artists from the past and present, from China and abroad, and through them, discover a shared ‘far-off land’, a cosmic and eternal hometown.”

Exhibition view of Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming at the Museum of Art Pudong, 2021. Photo by Gu Kenryou, courtesy Cai Studio

Meanwhile, Encounter with the Unknown, a site-specific kinetic light installation, was commissioned specifically for the exhibition. It takes inspiration from the nature-based cosmology of the Mayan civilisation and laces together images and stories from those who had “embraced the cosmos.” The installation measures over 30 metres tall and takes the form of traditional handcrafted Mexican Castillo fireworks. The structure generates computer-operated “light drawings” that create dynamic and multi-dimensional images, which link the ancient with the modern. Cai had previously collaborated with five maestro pyrotechnician families in San Pedro Cholula in Mexico for his 2019 realisation of the Encounter with the Unknown: Cosmos Project

Process of Encounter with the Unknown in Liuyang, 2021. Photo by Gu Kenryou, courtesy Cai Studio

Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957) trained in Stage Design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy and started experimenting with gunpowder in his hometown of Quanzhou. From 1986 to 1995, he lived in Japan and explored the material further. His works draw from his interest in merging Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues. His ambitious site-specific projects respond to culture and history, which propels exchanges among artists, viewers, the history of the place, and the signifying context in the scope of the larger universe around them. Cai’s explosion art and installations produce a force that transcends the two-dimensional plane in engaging with society and nature. 

Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming runs through the 7th of March 2022 at the Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai.