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Famed artist’s works on river tackle environment
By Wang Jie

CRUISING along the Bund on the Huangpu River, a fishing boat carrying 99 fabricated animals drew great attention from the public this week.

This is truly a successful media campaign announcing the coming of New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang’s solo exhibition, “The Ninth Wave,” at Power Station of Art on August 8.

The fishing boat is one of his 11 major works, and it will finally land at the museum.

According to the artist, the work was inspired by Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky’s 1850 eponymous painting, which depicted survivors from a shipwreck clinging to a mast in the last throes of survival, expressing man’s helplessness in the face of nature’s unforgiving forces.

But here, Cai discusses the current environment and ecological crisis. Six new artworks have also been commissioned for this exhibition, and several are taking place in the public area leading up to the exhibition hall.

Born in 1957 in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, Cai perhaps is one of the best-known Chinese artists in the West. Trained in stage design at Shanghai Theater Academy, he was awarded the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999. To date, he is the only Chinese recipient of this award. Cai now lives and works in New York.

The artist is especially famous for his fireworks at 2001 APEC Summit and the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 that impressed the world.

However, almost every artist, despite how established he is, still tries hard to break limits in art, and Cai is no exception. In the past decade, he received too many accolades, and the question is how to defend his status on the international art stage.

And the past glorious experiences seem to have left a clue for him — drawing the attention of large crowds. But when an artist repeatedly “plays” for huge, daunting and eye-catching works, then he is fooling himself and the viewers.

In 2013, Cai gave out his notorious work “One Night Stand” along the Seine in Paris. He asked several couples to make love in the tents along the river. Under the brilliant backdrop of his fireworks, the silhouettes reflecting what was happening inside the tents were exposed, which the artist said was “the best gift for this romantic city.”

No one knows if Cai himself really loves this art piece, but it is missing from his calendar in the press kit prepared for this Shanghai exhibition.

It is understood that not every artwork can be successful and it is really difficult to pave another new art path. But Cai obviously is not daunted and he has been busy in one project after another around the world — from Dubai to Paris. It’s said that he is planning a museum in Quanzhou, his hometown.

“For a long time, my art has focused on presenting the relations between man and nature, and man and the universe,” Cai said. “In recent years, however, I have drawn more nourishment from traditional Chinese literati paintings, which reflect the tranquil etherealness of nature, the relation between man and nature, the cultivation of the mind to return to the primordial spiritual landscape, and the origin of life.”

But these words sound too familiar, as it already becomes a trend that many Chinese artists are looking back to dig the essence of traditional Chinese culture or “worried” about the environmental issues. But as a world-famous artist, his art should stand above, diving deeper to the profound Chinese culture than merely lingering on the surface.

But for Power Station of Art, Cai’s solo exhibition is a good spreading of contemporary art to the public. A major highlight of the show will happen on August 8, the opening day, when Cai will create “Elegy,” a large-scale daytime “explosion event.”

This ephemeral artwork will take advantage of the museum’s location on the Huangpu River opposite the Expo Park, employing colored smoke and conceived in three chapters. According to Cai, “the explosion event is an expression of sorrow for the demise of nature.”

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