Cai Guo-Qiang's Explosive Artwork in Edinburgh photo: Stephen Robinson
Cai Guo-Qiang's Explosive Artwork in Edinburgh photo: Stephen Robinson

The bad news is that their will be no Christmas Tree at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this year. But it’s not because of a recession or anything of that nature. Because in it’s place they’re going to have some Explosions!

Cai Guo-Qiang, Black Fireworks

December 11, 2009 – Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project

Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project is a site-specific explosion event conceived by Cai Guo-Qiang for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A blossoming flower shaped from gunpowder fuse will be ignited on December 11 at sunset, and its joyous radiance will symbolize the beauty and energy within the iconic building of the Museum being offered as a gift to the city. The title of the explosion event, Fallen Blossoms – which is also the title of the two-venue exhibition, is derived from a classical Chinese proverb hua kai hua luo which speaks of the profound feelings experienced when a flourishing life is cut short unexpectedly. The explosion event is therefore also intended as a celebration of the memory of the Museum’s late director, Anne d’Harnoncourt.


Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian, China. He was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy from 1981 to 1985. Cai’s work is scholarly and often politically charged. Cai initially began working with gunpowder to foster spontaneity and confront the suppressive, controlled artistic tradition and social climate in China. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, Cai explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and the development of his signature “explosion events,” artistically choreographed shows incorporating fireworks and other pyrotechnics. In 1995, he moved to New York with a grant from the New York-based Asian Cultural Council, an international organization to promote artistic exchanges between Asian countries and the United States.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s practice draws on a wide variety of symbols, narratives, traditions and materials such as fengshui, Chinese medicine, dragons, roller coasters, computers, vending machines, wildlife, portraiture, non-Han Chinese citizens and their cultures, fireworks and gunpowder. Much of his work draws on Maoist/Socialist concepts for content, especially his gunpowder drawings which strongly reflect Mao Zedong’s tenet “destroy nothing, create nothing.”

He was selected as a finalist for the 1996 Hugo Boss Prize and won the 48th Venice Biennale International Golden Lion Prize and 2001 CalArts/Alpert Award in the Arts. In 2008, he has a large-scale mid-career retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, scheduled to travel to the National Art Museum of China in Beijing and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He also gained widespread attention for organizing a fireworks show to mark the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Cai is one of the most well-known and influential Chinese contemporary artists, having represented his country at the Venice Biennale in 1999 with his project Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard, a performance during which he had artisans recreate a famous work of Socialist Realist propaganda sculpture. Cai returned to Venice in 2005 to curate the Chinese pavilion.

His work has also attracted controversy. Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard drew condemnation within China from the original authors of the Socialist Realist sculpture for destroying their “spiritual property.” Some critics have asserted that while his work references politics and philosophy, he seems to switch positions at will and that the references seem relatively opportunistic. Finally, Cai’s participation in the Beijing Olympics has built a great reputation among common Chinese people.

Explosion Work

Cai Guo-Qiang: Fallen Blossoms
December 11, 2009 – March 21, 2010
Cai Guo-Qiang: Fallen Blossoms is the result of a close collaboration between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Fabric Workshop and Museum. Conceived as an homage to the late Anne d’Harnoncourt, former director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition gracefully addresses time’s passing and the role that memory and memorials play in attending to the past. Internationally renowned artist Cai Guo-Qiang has engaged with these themes in a profound and lyrical manner. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition will consist of two components: a series of gunpowder drawings titled Light Passage, and an explosion event, Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project, scheduled for December 11th on the Museum’s East façade. A video projection of this explosion event will be on display at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in addition to two new works: Time Scroll and Time Flies like a Weaving Shuttle. These works, like the rest of the exhibition, gracefully address time’s passage and the role memory and memorials play in attending to the past.

About Light Passage
The series of gunpowder drawings titled Light Passage is a meditation on the passing of time as reflected by the four seasons of the year. Nature’s continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth serves as a metaphor for the transformations brought along by the passage of time. The sculptural installation accompanying the drawings, 99 Golden Boats, will float in the gallery space like shimmering leaves in an imaginary river.

To learn more about the Exhibit, and the Explosion Project, check out the exhibit’s website.

Culture Cai Guo-Qiang: Fallen Blossoms is Coming to the Philadelphia Museum of Art...