The Big Bang

Gunpowder drawings, car-bomb art--Cai Guo-Qiang's career is booming

David Heald / Guggenheim Foundation N.Y.

Inopportune: Stage One, 2004, tumbles down the Guggenheim's giant rotunda.

In 1984, when he was still living in China, the artist Cai Guo-Qiang began experimenting with a very Chinese medium. And a very tricky one: gunpowder. He would sprinkle it on fibrous paper, then light it to create a "drawing" of burned residues. He moved on to produce outdoor "explosion events," using fireworks to create spectacles on the ground and in the sky that he related to Taoist ideas about destruction and transformation. By now, Cai (pronounced Sigh) is an old master of blast art. Which is funny, because at 50, he's a soft-spoken man with a modest manner. It's his...

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