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Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China; Lives in New York)
Light Passage—Autumn
Gunpowder on paper
400 x 600 cm (157.48 x 236.22 in.)
Collection of the artist
Photo by Tatsumi Masatoshi, courtesy Cai Studio

Light Passage—Autumn (detail), 2007, by Cai Guo Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China, lives in New York). Collection of the artist. Photo by Tatsumi Masatoshi, courtesy of Cai Studio.


Cai Guo-Qiang: Fallen Blossoms

December 11, 2009–March 21, 2010

Cai Guo-Qiang: Fallen Blossoms is the result of a close collaboration between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Fabric Workshop and Museum. Conceived as an homage to the late Anne d'Harnoncourt, former director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition gracefully addresses time's passing and the role that memory and memorials play in attending to the past.

Fallen Blossoms includes five components: at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Light Passage, a series of gunpowder drawings, and Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project, a one-time explosion event on the East Terrace on December 11, 2009. At the Fabric Workshop and Museum, a video of the Explosion Project as well as two additional new works, Time Scroll and Time Flies Like a Weaving Shuttle, are on view through March 1, 2010.

<i>Cai Guo-Qiang: Light Passage</i>
Installation view 
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang: Light Passage by Cai Guo Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China, lives in New York). Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Light Passage is a meditation on the passing of time in which the artist invokes the four seasons, a recurrent trope in Asian art, to symbolize the ephemeral nature of life. The natural elements depicted by Cai's finely tuned technique of igniting gunpowder on paper—trees, flower blossoms, water, birds—metaphorically express the themes of death and renewal. Three of the drawings, Spring, Summer, and Winter are mounted on panels, directly referencing historical screen painting traditions. By using gunpowder on paper, the artist reveals the fine balance between the destructive nature of the material and its aesthetic potential when employed in art making. Hung above the drawings and in close resonance with them, is 99 Golden Boats, a sculptural installation that contrasts the precious yet immutable gold of the boats with the flowing, river-like pattern implied by their succession. It is the first time that this group of works is exhibited in the United States.

Explosion Project

Cai Guo Qiang  (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China; Lives in New York)
<i>Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project</i>
Philadelphia Museum of Art 
December 11, 2009

Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project, December 11, 2009, by Cai Guo Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China, lives in New York). Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project was a site-specific explosion event conceived by Cai Guo-Qiang for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A blossoming flower of light and fire, the explosion was an ephemeral but mesmerizing ceremony celebrating the creative energy contained in the Museum's landmark building. The gunpowder fuse shaped like a flower was ignited on December 11 at sunset in front of a large audience. Intended as a gift to the city, the radiance of the blossoming flower faded out after a minute in a finale punctuated by gunpowder salutes.

The title of the explosion event, Fallen Blossoms – also the title of the two-venue exhibition - is derived from a classical Chinese proverb hua kai hua luo which speaks of the profound feeling of loss experienced when a life is cut short unexpectedly. Thus, the event was also intended as a celebration of the memory of the Museum's late director, Anne d'Harnoncourt. A video work documenting the event and titled Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project will be on display at the Fabric Workshop and Museum until March 1, 2010.

Main Building

About the Artist

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China. He initially began working with gunpowder to foster spontaneity and confront the suppression that he felt from the controlled artistic tradition and social climate in China at the time. While living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, which led to the development of his signature explosion events. His installation works draw upon feng shui, philosophy, Chinese medicine and history, employing a site-specific, interdisciplinary approach that cuts across diverse mediums including drawing, painting, video and performance art. Cai was awarded the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, the 7th Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007, and the 20th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2009. He was Director of Visual and Special Effects for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. In 2008, he was the subject of a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. He has lived in New York since 1995.

Cai Guo-Qiang ignites one of his gunpowder drawings at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, October 2009.


Organized in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum.


Cai Guo-Qiang: Fallen Blossoms has been funded at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by anonymous donors in memory of Anne d'Harnoncourt, and at The Fabric Workshop and Museum by the members of The Fabric Workshop and Museum. Additional support at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has been provided by Shiseido.


Carlos Basualdo, Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary ArtAdelina Vlas; Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

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