Cai Guo-Qiang. Money Net - Project for Royal Academy of Art. Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's

signed in pinyin, titled in English and dated 2002.9.12 - gunpowder and ink on paper - 300 by 400cm.; 118 1/8 by 157 1/2 in. - Lot Sold : 4,820,000 HKD

LITERATURE AND REFERENCES : Cai Guo-Qiang, On Black Fireworks, Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, 2005, pp. 179-180

NOTE : Cai Guo-Qiang created the gunpowder drawing Money Net (Red Del dinero) (Lot 416) in 2002 as a lasting work of art associated with the ephemeral Project No. 51 – Explosion: Money Net. He produced the latter at the Royal Academy of Art in London, on the occasion of the exhibition, The Galleries Show. Organizers of the exhibition, in recognition of both the substantial growth in the number of London galleries showcasing contemporary art, and the important role they play in the art world, chose eighteen, allocating a space to each in Burlington House. The focus on galleries and the choice of an organizational method similar to that of an art fair served to underscore the commercial side of the art world.

Designed for the opening of The Galleries Show and sited in the Royal Academy Courtyard, Cai Guo-Qiang's Money Net consisted of a sculpture of a money bag over seven meters high, constructed from gunpowder fuses wired to form the contours of a drawstring purse. Igniting the fuses activated the work, resulting in a brief spectacle of less than two seconds duration. Raising Money Net above its role as a simple metaphor for the function of galleries in culling profit from art, or for the pull contemporary art exerts on collectors' wallets, is the fact that, like other such events, Money Net in practical terms was a financial conflagration: gunpowder events can be extremely costly to produce. Cai has long recognized the frisson of pleasure afforded the spectators by knowledge of the expense of the materials, all destroyed in a fleeting moment. The role of conspicuous consumption as a motivator in contemporary art collecting thus ties to Money Net in a visceral fashion.

As Director of Visual and Special Effects for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics, Cai produced one of the grandest fireworks shows of all time—and doubtlessly that with the largest audience, the Opening Ceremony reportedly drawing up to a billion television viewers. At a July 23 press conference regarding the fireworks for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, it was stated that the budget amounted to less than one percent of the overall budget for those ceremonies. Given that the overall budget was reportedly $300 million, the fireworks displays burned up to three million dollars. While those fireworks went off without any visible hitches, there have been a couple of unsuccessful large-scale events organized by Cai, including a project for the Second Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in 1996 in Brisbane, where an accident destroyed the fireworks shortly before they were to be deployed. The ever-present knowledge of the absolute uncertainty involved in working with gunpowder—attributable to weather or to human error—combined with the level of financial commitment can forge a level of anxiety that enhances the appreciation of the successfully realized spectacle.

Cai Guo-Qiang's career spans a broad range of activities. He curated the first Venice Biennale China pavilion; he has produced an ongoing series of museums at diverse, generally unorthodox sites, Everything Is Museum (the next in collaboration with Norman Foster); and he has collaborated on projects with Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan, architect Zaha Hadid, fashion designer Issey Miyake, and composer Tan Dun, among others. His solo art career embraces many media including large-scale installations often with performance components. But for almost two decades, through two major moves (a 1986-1995 sojourn in Japan and a 1995 move to New York), he has returned again and again to the production of gunpowder events; and his experiments with gunpowder drawing date back to 1984: gunpowder holds an abiding fascination for him, and has become his signature medium.

Interviewed by curator Jerome Sans, Cai Guo-Qiang described the role of fireworks in his early life: "I grew up with fireworks in my hometown of Quanzhou, where fireworks were made and used a lot. Every important occasion was marked by the use of firecrackers: funerals, weddings, births and holidays. Quanzhou is also the closest mainland city to Taiwan, and my childhood was filled with the sound of artillery fire back and forth between both sides."[i] Cai's gunpowder events, like fireworks, can be celebratory or eulogistic—or, as with Money Net, they can express a witty comment that hovers in between those extremes. The visual and aural impact of his most ambitious gunpowder series, the Projects for Extraterrestrials, is so massive that those works serve symbolically to connect viewers with the greater universe. Another crucial element of Cai's pyrotechnic events is the fact that they bring together the moment of creation with the moment of destruction. On the basis of its fleeting moment of destruction/creation, Money Net was included in the exhibition Apparition: the Action of Appearing, at the Arnolfini, a contemporary arts center in Bristol in 2003.

Over the past decade or so, as Cai's gunpowder events have grown increasingly complex, his practice of creating gunpowder drawings associated with those events has developed increasing finesse: works of art in these two modes often are realized as parallel works of art, one a short-lived theatrical manifestation, the other a more subtle expression bearing extended contemplation. This dichotomy of expressive modes represents a logical development of Cai's early influences and activities. His father was an amateur painter, and the family upheld the traditional values of learning and art even through the difficult times of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when such things were suppressed as counter-revolutionary. During that tumultuous era, destruction was upheld as a necessary action to create a new revolutionary society (i.e., destruction = construction, à la creation via gunpowder), and much propagandistic art was created on an unprecedented grand scale. Cai's subsequent tenure as a student in Stage Design at the Shanghai Drama Institute (1981-1985) afforded him a crucial understanding of theatrical display. Thus, his appreciation for the grandiose and the subtle developed together, through the influences of his family, his times, and his formal education.

Cai began experimenting with gunpowder drawing in 1984. After decades of continuously honing his technique, the level of unpredictability has diminished, yet the gunpowder drawings inevitably represent a sophisticated negotiation with chance. Cai deploys different kinds of gunpowder on the paper's surface to produce diverse effects; following ignition, burn marks and ash remain, their subtle tonal variations reminiscent of Chinese ink paintings. In Money Net (Red Del dinero) the tones range from rich velvety dark brown lines seemingly etched into the paper to light reddish-brown heat blurs that radiate from the middle of the bag: it seems that while the bag tries to contain the money, the energy of the latter is vibrating and exploding outward, seeking a more active role outside.

Money Net (Red Del dinero) was published in Cai Guoqiang: Fuegos Artificiales negros = on black fireworks (Valencia: Institut Valencia d'art Modern, 2005).

[i] Cai Guo-Qiang: An Arbitrary History (Lyon: Musée d'Art Contemporain de Lyon, 2001), p. 53.

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