Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China) was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy from 1981 until 1985. His work has since spanned multiple artistic mediums including drawing, painting, installation, video, and performance art. Cai began to experiment with gunpowder painting in his hometown Quanzhou, and continued exploring the practice while living in Japan from the end of 1986 to 1995. He continued to evolve the scale and form of these gunpowder works, which eventually led him to develop his signature outdoor explosion events. Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, his often site-specific artworks respond to the local culture and history and establish a dialogue between viewers and the larger universe around them. His explosion art and installations are imbued with a force that transcends the two-dimensional plane to engage with society and nature.
He has received many important awards including the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1999, the Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007, and the 2009 Fukoka Prize. In 2012, he was honored as a Laureate for the prestigious Praemium Imperiale in the painting category. The award was bestowed by the Japanese royal family and recognizes lifetime achievement in the arts across categories not covered by the Nobel Prize. The same year, he was named as one of five artists to receive the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts for his outstanding commitment to international cultural exchange. His recent honors include the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Award in 2015, the Bonnefanten Award for Contemporary Art in 2016, and the 7th Isamu Noguchi Award in 2020. Cai also served as a member of the core creative team and as the director of visual and special effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
For the past three decades, Cai has held numerous solo exhibitions in major art centers around the world, including Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006 and his retrospective I Want to Believe at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2008. His 2013 solo exhibition Da Vincis do Povo toured to three cities in Brazil, attracting over one million visitors. The Rio de Janeiro edition became the most-visited exhibition of any living artist in the world that year. In 2015, Cai’s explosion event Sky Ladder was realized off of Huiyu Island in his hometown of Quanzhou, Fujian. The artwork became the centerpiece of an eponymous Netflix documentary, directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald.
In recent years, Cai embarked on Individual’s Journey Through Western Art History—a series of exhibitions held in world-renowned museums, each a dialogue with the Western art history embodied by the host museum: October at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Russia, 2017); The Spirit of Painting. Cai Guo-Qiang at the Prado at the Museo del Prado (Spain, 2017); Flora Commedia: Cai Guo-Qiang at the Uffizi at the Uffizi Galleries (Italy, 2018); In the Volcano: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and Pompeii Archaeological Park (Italy, 2019); and Non-Brand at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (USA, 2019) which Cai also curated.
His other important recent projects include the solo exhibition Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape at the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia, 2019) and the explosion event Encounter with the Unknown: Cosmos Project for Mexico (Mexico, 2019).
From December 2020 to February 2021, Cai held his solo exhibition Odyssey and Homecoming at the Palace Museum in Beijing—the culmination of his Individual’s Journey Through Western Art History. Coinciding with the 600th anniversary of the founding of the Forbidden City, it was the first solo exhibition of contemporary art in the museum’s history. In July 2021, Odyssey and Homecoming traveled to the Jean Nouvel-designed Museum of Art Pudong in Shanghai as one of its inaugural exhibitions, where it will remain on display until March 7, 2022.
On July 16, 2021, Cai launched his first NFT project Transient Eternity—101 Ignitions of Gunpowder Paintings, commissioned by the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai for the museum’s 10th anniversary. The work was sold in a virtual charity auction for 2.5 million USD, setting the record for the highest NFT sale from a non-crypto-native artist. The proceeds went to support the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai and the Cai Foundation in New York.
He has lived and worked in New York since 1995.