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Frequently asked questions about the “Cai Guo-Qiang. October” exhibition

22.09.2017

Why is the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts holding an exhibition of modern art?

In line with leading world museums like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is the first Russian museum to combine classical art and modern art in its projects. The Pushkin Museum has the unique opportunity to demonstrate the great achievements of the world’s artistic culture in its best works, both classical and avant-garde, to several generations of Russian people.

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts has presented topical works of world art to the Russian public throughout its history. Many high-profile exhibitions have taken place here, including “Paintings, Drawings and Ceramics by Pablo Picasso” (1956), the Retrospective Exhibition of Aleksander Tyschler's Works (1966), “Moscow — Paris. 1900–1930” (1982), “Marc Chagall. For the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of the Artist” (1987), “Moscow — Berlin. 1900-1950” (1996), “Andy Warhol” (2001) and many others.

A new initiative — Pushkin Museum XXI — was established as part of the Museum’s development concept. Its goal is to help the public understand what contemporary art is and to present its most outstanding contributors. 

Why did a Chinese artist prepare an exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution?

Cai Guo-Qiang is an international artist. He has traveled a great deal throughout his life, getting to know the different cultures in each country and collaborating with locals.

Russia and the USSR played an important role in the artist’s life and his creative path. As a child, Cai studied drawing and painting in the works of Russian and Soviet artists. Cai Guo-Qiang researched the special system of step-by-step sketching invented by Pavel Chistyakov, copied the “Portrait of an Unknown Woman” by Ivan Kramskoi, spent a long time looking for proper water to duplicate Isaac Levitan's painting “By the Deep,” and studied the books and albums of many Russian painters. He sees Konstantin Maksimov, a Soviet artist who taught at a studio in Beijing in 1955–1957, as one of his main teachers. Though Cai, born in 1957, could not meet Maksimov, he and other young Chinese artists  were influenced by the Russian master. Later, Cai Guo-Qiang collected 260 works by Maksimov, as well as several of his palettes, boxes with paints, easels and archive materials — photos that Maksimov took during his visit to China.

The topic of revolution was also important to Cai Guo-Qiang. He witnessed the Chinese Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong, which influenced the artist significantly. This is why he cannot interpret the October Revolution as a casual observer. Throughout his work on the exhibition, Guo-Qiang constantly improved his skills and deepened his understanding of Russia and its relationship with China.

Why is Cai Guo-Qiang famous?

Cai Guo-Qiang is one of the most well-known contemporary artists. In his projects, which are based on the ideas of Eastern philosophy and outline present-day social problems, the artist tries to establish a connection between the viewers and the surrounding world. Every work by Cai Guo-Qiang is created based on the cultural and historical codes of a specific location.

Over the last 30 years, Cai Guo-Qiang’s artwork has been presented in almost every major international exhibition. He has also had a number of solo exhibitions in the most famous museums in the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2008) in New York, the National Art Museum of China, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2009) and the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht (2016). Cai Guo-Qiang’s solo exhibition “Da Vincis do Povo” (2013) was a 3-day tour in Brazil (Brasília – São Paulo – Rio de Janeiro). With over a million visitors, it became the most attended exhibition of a living artist. After the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Cai Guo-Qiang will present his exhibition in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

In 1999, Cai Guo-Qiang received the highest award in the world of contemporary art — the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale. He is the creator of the grandiose pyrotechnical show at the Olympics Opening Ceremony in Beijing in 2008.

What is the meaning of the installation “Autumn”?

The enormous installation “Autumn” greets Pushkin Museum visitors in the garden by the entrance to the Main Building.  The hand-made hill of birches is made of more than 300 baby carriages, cribs and cradles. Some of them were donated to the artist by Muscovites. Young birches “growing” from baby carriages and cradles become a little forest on the slopes of the hill. Together with the changing seasons, the golden leaves become yellow, dry out and fall away, thus reminding us of the rapidity and fluidity of human life. This installation, created with the help of locals, demonstrates that people are the most important historic subjects. It turns the façade of the Main Building into a monument to thousands of human lives. Just like constructivist works of art, this installation is a tribute to humanity’s dream of a better society.

What other features of the exhibition “Cai Guo-Qiang. October” can be seen in the Museum?

The exhibition will transform the major spaces of the Museum into a huge installation, which will include the famous gunpowder artworks, calligraphy and preparatory sketches for the pyrotechnical show on Red Square. Cai Guo-Qiang created three big gunpowder artworks in calligraphic and painting styles. Above the Pink Staircase, the composition “Sound” can be found: it is made of a silk cloth with the following quote from “The Internationale,” written in gunpowder: “No more deluded by reaction, On tyrants only we'll make war!” The White Hall displays the black gunpowder composition “River”: it includes portraits and scenes of Russians’ everyday life over the last 100 years. The images were created using laser stencils, which made them resemble negatives. Together, they constitute a long “river of bygone memories.” In front of the “River,” a colored gunpowder composition “Garden” can be found: bright poppies and carnations are seen next to Soviet propaganda posters incarnating ideals of the past, loyalty to the homeland, and heroism. Together, these images create a kind of utopian garden.

The “Earth” installation is also exhibited in the White Hall. This is a grain field of millions of dry ears flickering with golden light. An oval mirror on the ceiling resembles the sky and reflects emblems of Soviet times, hidden in a mysterious circle among the ears, as well as the viewers standing next to them. This encounter causes viewers to think of their own personal attitude toward these utopian symbols.

Samples of gunpowder and sketches can be seen in the colonnade. Small abstract artworks help visitors learn about the artist’s experiments with different materials, color and painting techniques.

In Hall No. 20, a video of the Daytime Pyrotechnical Show on Red Square will be showing. The ceremonial nature of the show and its sounds are amazing, bringing to mind great historical events that have been witnessed by the country’s main square.

How did Cai Guo-Qiang create the gunpowder artworks for this exhibition?

Gunpowder artworks presented at the exhibition were created by Cai Guo-Qiang in a VDNKh pavilion with the help of volunteers in early September. Cai Guo-Qiang’s art is addressed to the world at large. By inviting volunteers, Cai gives people of every country an opportunity to become a part of his creative process, leave their marks on history, and feel the challenges, obstacles and success experienced by an artist during his or her work.

Cai Guo-Qiang prepared images in advance, which volunteers used to cut out stencils. Then they helped to put them on canvas. Cai Guo-Qiang spilled a pyrotechnical mixture along the contours of the stencils, taking every detail of the image into account. The image was then covered with a board and pressed by stones. Cai lit the fuse, and the “powder” flared up and left marks on the canvas.

Cai Guo-Qiang started to use gunpowder in his artworks in 1984. In 1986–1995, he lived and worked in Japan, continuing to research characteristics of this material and gradually starting to create large-scale works and open-air pyrotechnical performances. Later, Cai Guo-Qiang began using state-of-the-art technologies and eco-friendly materials at his daytime gunpowder shows. He has been working with colored pyrotechnical mixtures since 2015.

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