IN THE VOLCANO: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii
a personal exhibition at the MANN
from FEBRUARY 22nd to May 20th 2019
Vernissage February 22nd at 4.30pm
An explosion of fireworks and colours in Pompeii’s Amphitheatre to relive the tragic and, at the same time, vital dynamics of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, in a timeless poetic journey telling the story of the destruction and rebirth of Pompeii.
It will be a unique performance by artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who on February will execute his “Explosion Studio” in the arena of the Amphitheatre. It will be an artistic explosion whose different phases will bring to life again not only the tragedy that devastated Pompeii but also its fortunate discovery, bringing to light exceptional historical and archaeological finds.
The works created from this explosion event, together with the video of the performance, will then be transferred to the MANN (National Archaeological Museum of Naples) from February 22nd (with a vernissage at 4.30pm) until May 20th, 2019. Spread throughout the museum (from the Farnese Collection to the frescoes section, from the lobby to the mosaic collection), Cai Quo-Qiang’s works will narrate the indissoluble link between past and present, and between Eastern and Western culture.
The project’s art curator is Jérôme Neutres, director of La Réunion des Musées Nationaux Grand Palais and president of the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.
“In the Volcano. Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii” hosts at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii is made possible with special support of Morra Foundation.
With this double artistic engagement, Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang thus continues his work in Italy after the success of his firework performance in Florence (“Cai Guo-Qiang. City of Flowers in the Sky”) and the solo show “Flora Commedia alle Gallerie degli Uffizi”, running until February 17th, 2019 as part of Cai Guo-Qiang’s larger project, “An individual’s Journey through Western Art history”.
Winner of numerous cultural awards, including the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale, Cai was also in charge of the special and visual effects at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
His artistic output, which has always involved different media, from drawing to installations, from video performances to painting, then began to focus on the special use of gunpowder that brings strength and vitality to the creative expression in his explosion installations.
The explosion at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii will be a one-of-its-kind event thanks to the uniquely awe-inspiring location: the event will be re-presented and visible to the public during the Exhibition at the MANN, of which it will form an integral part.
At the Amphitheatre, copies of objects linked to daily life and art in Pompeii will be suspended on a large 30-metre white canvas, resting on a platform; these will include reproductions of sculptures from the MANN collections, such as the Venus Callipigia, the Farnese Hercules and Atlas, and the bust of Pseudo-Seneca. There will be small original canvases, produced at Casa Morra; they will be filled, in the wake of the gunpowder explosion, with drawings and colours inspired by the findings housed at the Archaeological Museum.
The Pompeii exhibition with the evocative title “Canvas of Civilization” is in three parts - small explosions will disrupt the artefacts arranged on the canvas, marking it violently and inexorably, with the same ruthlessness that has left its mark on human lives; after a brief pause, there follows “Sigh”, using coloured fireworks lined up along the canvas and pointing towards the sky as though in an unrelenting volcanic eruption, fireworks that will recall the sound of a heavy sigh, that of the rise and fall of human civilization. After another short break, peace will reign once more. Then “Excavation” will begin – amid the last fumes; the artist and his team will bring to light the “archaeological ruins”.
"Pompeii is a place of the contemporary, I take a loan this thought of Massimo Osanna, to whom we owe the promotion of this project, which I find very significant." - declares the interim Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Alfonsina Russo - Pompeii, suspended in time, has always captured the imagination and creative spirit of artists of all ages, reminding us that the tragic event of 79 AD was impressed by the collective memory for eternity, not only for its unique history and testimony of an era, but also because of the profound sense of fragility and impotence we constantly refer to ".
After the Explosion Studio in the Amphitheatre, the “In the Volcano” journey will come to its natural conclusion with the exhibition at the MANN: the long canvas used for the performance in Pompeii will be on display in the Museum lobby, stretching out among the arches and vaults like a protective veil to welcome the public until March 11th.
In addition to the great masterpieces of ancient statuary, copies of the Farnese Hercules and the Venere Callipigia, reinterpreted by Cai through the colours of the explosion, will also be installed, and the three busts of Pseudo-Seneca in various colours as symbol of the different identities of Seneca the Young - tragic poet, philosopher and involuntary mentor of dictators - in an interplay with the various architectural forms that will attract the gaze of the visitors.
There will be many surprises in store for those who follow the path traced by Cai Guo-Qiang through the Archaeological Museum: the evanescent traces of gunpowder on canvas will evoke references to the figures of classical iconography, just as the presence of the extraordinary installations in the various rooms will invite reflection on the continuity between past and present.
While vases and terracotta objects will be displayed on simple platforms, evoking the everyday life of the Ancient Romans, the reproduction of a boat, anchored to the wall and placed alongside the frescoes of Pompeii, will disclose the timeless secret of an ongoing artistic journey.
"Thanks to the work of Cai Guo-Qiang, the sense of folklore, the atmosphere, and the power of Eastern traditions are brought imperiously to the rooms of the MANN, showing how the sharing of culture derives from a similar ability to observe the world with the curiositas of the Ancients”, says Museum Director, Paolo Giulierini.
“When Vesuvius erupted, burying the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, nature created a masterpiece, taking catastrophe as its medium and preserving the monumental heritage as a time-space capsule…” says Cai Guo-Qiang. “The repressed energy of the volcano built up until it could no longer be contained, leading to an unbridled explosion! A similar natural state can also be found in human nature and our social condition, and in the harmony with nature in my decades of work with gunpowder... For this project, I tried to let the hormones take the lead, to create something with a touch of ferocity, at a time when people often strive to be too civilized, carefully polishing, ‘cleaning up’ their works and even the concepts that attempt to explain the meaning of their work. Can I not simply stage an uncontrolled eruption, recalling the volcano and the day of judgment of Pompeii? A completely unexpected event, something that appears right on our path!"
Jérôme Neutres, curator of the exhibition, adds: “Pompeii is more than a museum, it is the city of images, with its houses covered from floor to ceiling with frescoes and mosaics. The city seemed to live with art. For Cai Guo-Qiang, dialogue with Pompeii involves this world of images and its imagination. For this exhibition, Cai Guo-Qiang has used new creative tools, innovating his method using glass, mirrors, marble, ceramics, plaster ... In the culture and artistic history of Naples and Campania, the artist has found new media for his explosion paintings. This dialogue takes shape in the scenography of the exhibition, setting up Cai Guo-Qiang’s works within the collections, creating a sort of treasure hunt among the works from Pompeii, moving back and forth between past and present, with mirror effects between the aesthetics of first-century Pompeii and the eminently contemporary art of Cai Guo-Qiang.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue (published by Silvana Editoriale in English and Italian; followed by a Chinese edition published by TCREATIVEMEDIA) with texts by Paolo Giulierini, Jérôme Neutres, Achille Bonito Oliva, Massimo Osanna, Jurgen Schilling, Loredana Troise.
Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in the city of Quanzhou, China. He trained at the Shanghai Theatre Academy and has worked with a variety of artistic media including drawing, installation, video and performance. During his stay in Japan, from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, undertaking a journey of research that led to the development of today’s explosion events. Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, his artworks respond to culture and history and establish an exchange 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.
Cai Guo-Qiang was awarded the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, the Culture Award at the 20th Asian Culture Prize in Fukuoka in 2009, and the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Awards in 2015. He won the Bonnefanten Prize for Contemporary Art (BACA) in 2016. In 2012, he was among the five winners of the prestigious Praemium Imperiale, which recognises lifetime achievement in the arts across categories not covered by the Nobel Prize.
In addition, he was named as one of the five artists to receive the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts for his outstanding commitment to international cultural exchange.
Cai also served as Director of Visual and Special Effects for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
His solo exhibitions and projects include Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2006 and his retrospective I Want to Believe, which opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2008.
His first solo exhibition in Brazil, Da Vincis do Povo, toured across three cities in 2013. Travelling from Brasilia to Sao Paulo before reaching his final destination in Rio de Janeiro, it was the most visited exhibition by a living artist worldwide, with one million visitors. In June 2015, Cai created the explosion event Sky Ladder Off, on Huiyu Island, Quanzhou, China, which became the star of the 2016 documentary produced by Netflix, Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald.
Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies was his largest public art project in the United States in the past decade, launched in Philadelphia in September 2017, while the most recent explosion event, Color Mushroom Cloud, was held on December 2nd in Chicago. Solo exhibitions in 2017 included Cai Guo-Qiang: October at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; and The Spirit of Painting. Cai Guo-Qiang at the Prado at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
He currently lives and works in New York.
Working to Explosion Studio...
Explosion Studio, Cai Guo Qiang, Pompeii 2019
Explosion Studio, Cai Guo Qiang, Pompeii 2019
Installation view of In the Volcano. Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, 2019