China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

hat about Cai Guo­qiang?” a woman in the au­di­ence at a re­cent Bei­jing in­ter­ac­tion with the Chi­nese artist asked him.

Cai, 58, an­swered: “Cai Guo­qiang is a lit­tle boy who never grows up, who tries to scare oth­ers with fire­crack­ers, but ends up scar­ing him­self.”

The di­a­logue was in ref­er­ence to Cai’s of­ten “What about it?” barbs at con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese art, for what he calls the lack of in­no­va­tion.

Cai is well-known for his fire­works, quite lit­er­ally. He used gun­pow­der to paint in his Projects for Ex­trater­res­tri­als se­ries (1989-2002) and­tomake so­cial and po­lit­i­cal state­ments.

In 2008, his “fire­works of gi­ant feet” at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the Bei­jing Olympics thrilled many. A few years later, af­ter his fire­works’ per­for­mance in Paris, some 50 cou­ples vol­un­teered to en­gage in in­ti­mate scenes on the banks of the Seine. In 2014, his work The Ninth Wave cap­tured the Shang­hai sky.

Cai’s gun­pow­der draw­ing Home­land sold for 15 mil­lion yuan ($2.38 mil­lion) at a Christie’s auc­tion in Shang­hai in 2013.

While the Chi­nese art mar­ket has boomed since 2006, there is still a lot that artists can do in terms of their con­tri­bu­tions to the art world, he says. Cai has sim­i­lar ex­pec­ta­tions from the coun­try’s film and fash­ion in­dus­tries.

“When Western­ers talk about Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art, they au­to­mat­i­cally lower their stan­dards,” he says.

Cai was in Bei­jing in April to talk about the ex­hi­bi­tion he has or­ga­nized for the Qatar Mu­se­ums Gallery Al Ri­waq in Doha— What About the Art?: Con­tem­po­rary Art from China. The ex­hi­bi­tion, run­ning through July 16, ex­am­ines ideas in Chi­nese mod­ern art and whether they in­flu­ence the global scene.

In re­cent years, many artis­tic works from China have set records at auc­tions and the art mar­ket in China is do­ing well, he says.

“But take away the ‘China an­gle’ from such works and what do you get about the art it­self? What about the in­no­va­tion?”

To find the an­swers, Cai and his team chose 14Chi­nese artists and one artist-col­lab­o­ra­tive duo from more than 200 through a three-year process.

The con­ver­sa­tions with in­di­vid­ual artists, to­gether with Cai’s dis­cus­sions with cu­ra­tors and schol­ars from home and abroad, are part of a 500-page book by the same name as the Doha ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tle.

What About the Art?: Con­tem­po­rary Art from China was pub­lished by Nor­mal Univer­sity March.

“Art is not only about con­tent alone, it is also about ex­pres­sion. If you see Chi­nese art to­day, you can barely tell which is whose work be­cause the works tend to re­sem­ble one an­other,” he says of what he de­scribes as the lack of in­di­vid­ual style.

“Even to­day, we are still learn­ing from theWest to cre­ate mod­ern art, but we haven’t learned to re­spect in­di­vid­u­al­ism in art.”

Group exhibitions of Chi­nese art in re­cent years have pre­sented dif­fer­ent artis­tic forms: sculp­tures, paint­ing, per­for­mance art and films, but that doesn’t mean di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of at­ti­tudes to­ward art or unique pre­sen­ta­tion skills in works, he says.

“Maybe works that talk about an artist’s sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences or pain af­ter a break-up of­fer in­di­vid­ual styles.” Guangxi Press in

In the book, Cai in­tro­duced artist Li Liao, who used in­stal­la­tion art to ex­press his state of mind af­ter his wife’s af­fair came to light. Li’s work is called Scorpio, his zo­diac sign.

“Be­cause peo­ple with this sun sign are good at re­venge,” Li is quoted as telling Cai in the book.

In the fore­word, Cai writes: “To­day, there is a lack of for­mal­ism in Chi­nese art. Artists of­ten worry that too much em­pha­sis on form will over­whelm the con­tent. But form it­self can be the con­tent, from which the­o­ries, at­ti­tudes and even con­tent and mean­ings can be de­vel­oped.”

He gives an ex­am­ple of Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy to show that artists in an­cient times paid great at­ten­tion to form.

“Many cal­lig­ra­phers started from im­i­ta­tion and then de­vel­oped theirown­styles,” he says.

An­other prob­lem with con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese art is that artists talk more about meth­ods rather than method­ol­ogy, the method of meth­ods, the most fun­da­men­tal ques­tion in art, Cai says.

“The sys­tem of feng shui has a very clear method­ol­ogy and sys­tem­atic so­lu­tions to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, such as the con­struc­tion of im­pe­rial mau­soleums. It in­structs peo­ple to in­ves­ti­gate the shape and lay­out of the moun­tains to de­cide the best lo­ca­tion for a cof­fin,” he writes in the book.

He ap­plauds an artist’s free spirit, warn­ing that artists should avoid be­com­ing “zoo crea­tures”, and this might be why he chose to start the book with farmer-turned-artist Hu Zhi­jun, who be­came in­ter­ested in sculp­ture in 2013 at the age of 61.

“Hu’s works, if judged by the stan­dards of anatomy and struc­ture, are full of flaws, but they have the orig­i­nal power of art,” Cai writes of the sculp­tor’s ideas.

Con­tact the writer at yangyangs@ chi­nadaily.com.cn


Cai Guo-qiang says a “China an­gle” is not enough to el­e­vate the na­tion’s con­tem­po­rary art.


Cai’s gun­pow­der paint­ing DayandNight makes a dra­matic state­ment at a re­cent show in Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince.

Cai’s new book of­fers an in­sight­ful look at the coun­try’s con­tem­po­rary art scene.

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