press release

The Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea of Trento held the first solo show dedicated by an Italian museum to the great Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, who won the Leone d’Oro at the 1999 Venice Biennale. The show was centered on lightness, on evanescence, on the relationship between the virtual and real world which was intended to lead visitors into a spiritual dimension.

Amongst the projects that were presented, Cai Guo-Qiang created various site-specific works for the Galleria Civica of Trento, one of which was dedicated to Chung Kuo, a 1972 documentary film about China by Michelangelo Antonioni originally created in accordance with the Chinese Government, later banned by the administration. The Chinese people had expected that the documentary would present an overview of modern China, on its progress, its innovations, but instead the film director was attracted by huge bicycle-riding crowds, by popular misery, by all that was kept alive by values such as solidarity.

As a consequence, Antonioni became the subject of a derogatory attack in which he was accused to be a symbol of western wickedness. Even his name appeared in school books, becoming the most famous foreigner in China after Marx and the old communist leaders. Now thirty-odd years later the film has been restored to favor, and Cai Guo-Qiang would like to face this example of cultural misunderstanding once again, what is due to him, as he himself claims: “to the disagreement of style and form between social realism and new realism”.

The film has been re-released by Cinecittà Holding. Carlo Di Carlo, Antonioni’s notorious director’s assistant and the chief expert of his work has curated the re-release of the film. The documentary was shown for the Cinema Festival of Venice retrospective dedicated to Antonioni in which Cai Guo-Qiang used to project it at the same time on two screens in the Galleria Civica; the first projection occurred in the courtyard of the gallery, the second one was projected on a red screen within the gallery’s space. Figures, landscapes and cities appeared as if they were moving shadows wanting to be grasped.

The second work created solely for this show was Passage, a fading river that flowed in the basement of the Galleria Civica and suggested the idea of passing and developing, both are characteristics of Trentino. This work was meant to be a promenade for the spirit and a passage between the material and nonmaterial state, the real and the virtual world.

Furthermore, a selection of his oil and gunpowder paintings were shown in the gallery, drawings whose writings are covered by explosions. These works were made in a studio in Trento weeks before the opening of the show.

Another section of the show projected various films documenting famous firework performances that propelled Cai Guo-Qiang to international fame: the explosion of mushroom clouds in front of the Twin Towers (1996), the big Chinese dragon burning in the sky of the Kunsthalle of Vienna (1999), the numerous Extraterrestrial Projects, short explosions meant to be seen from space.

After the opening, visitors were invited to Sardagna, a point on top of the mountain dominating Trento, by means of a cable car or bus. From this view, looking down on the town, one could see the colorful firework display presented in the town cemetery. Seen from above, they looked like flowers opening in the form of dahlia, peony, chrysanthemum, conceived as a tribute to the deceased who lay in the cemetery. Two cameras shot the fireworks: one from above in Sardagna and the other from beneath in the cemetery, as if they were confronting two different points of view, that of living and that of the deceased.

This action wants to let us reflect – according to the artist’s words – upon the subtle line that separates life and death, the visible and the invisible, art and everyday rituals, the town of the past and that of the future, the mountain top and the town lying beneath, comparing opposite concepts. From day following the show opening, the performance Ethereal Flowers was projected in the Galleria Civica’s spaces, under the title Heaven on Earth, on two curved screen alluding to the two different points of view.

For this occasion the first Italian/English catalogue on the artist was produced and published. The catalogue was issued by Silvana Editoriale and curated by the Director of the Galleria Civica, Fabio Cavallucci. It contains texts by Hou Hanru, Pier Luigi Tazzi and an interview with Cai Guo-Qiang by Monica Dematté.


only in german

Cai Guo-Qiang
Kurator: Fabio Cavallucci