Cai Guo-Qiang on the Roof: Transparent Monument
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
April 25–October 29, 2006
Four new artworks by Cai Guo-Qiang are now being exhibited on—and above—the Cantor Roof Garden at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art through October 29, 2006. Bringing even the sky into play, “Clear Sky Black Cloud,” three successive explosions each releasing a dark smoke-cloud, will appear over Central Park six days a week at noon for the next six months. Though a time-based event, clearly visible from the museum’s roof, the park, and surrounding buildings, it is definitively short and to the point. Given the ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq, these firepower black clouds look ominously like anti-aircraft flak, especially when accompanied by shots loud as thunder. Still, they evoke springtime’s sublime kiss of bliss when they evanesce, enhancing heaven’s unblemished tranquility.
Such ambivalence is key also to his three earthbound sculptures, effortlessly integrating art, architecture, and Central Park’s gentle greensward. In the artist’s words, these artworks aptly situate us between “history and contemporary culture, mythology and fact, nature and civilization.” “Transparent Monument” is a 15-foot high by 9 ½-foot wide vertical panel of plate glass raised on twin pedestals in the middle of the sweeping roof garden. Six dead birds fashioned of fiberglass, papier-mâché, and feathers lie crumpled at the base of the glass, as if they had flown into it, clearly marking the often painfully abrupt intersection of nature with culture.
In a comprehensive if idiosyncratic synchronous narrative, nine green limestone slabs, in total 30 feet long, portray significant events since Sept. 11, 2001, relating the “uneasiness and fragility of our society at present.” This “Nontransparent Monument” elaborates more than 40 scenes, with figures, from Harry Potter to the death of Pope John Paul II, Hurricane Katrina to airport security checkpoints, carved in relief by traditional Chinese craftsmen.
Tellingly, airport security measures emerge thematically as well in Cai Guo-Qiang’s two life-sized matching mounted crocodiles entitled “Move Along, Nothing To See Here.” These festive Chinese New Year parade-type colored “dragons” writhe, frolic, dance and snarl while stuck tip to tail with an alarming array of knives actually confiscated at global security checkpoints. Just as their spiked “porcupine” spines bring to mind the artist’s 1998 work, “Borrowing Your Enemy’s Weapons”—a full scale wooden ship flying the Chinese flag, suspended from the ceiling at New York’s P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and bristling with 3000 arrows—Cai Guo-Qiang’s latest pyrotechnical ephemera recalls his “Light Cycle Over Central Park,” that flying 1000-foot high white wheel flanked by banked lightning and haloes launched one night in 2003 above our midtown reservoir.
Born in China in 1957, Cai Guo-Qiang first acted in Kung Fu movies, and has since curated the Chinese pavilion at the Venice Biennale. An internationally provocative innovator, when referring to his most famous artistic material he once said, “There are countries where you have trouble finding oil paint, but I have been able to find gunpowder wherever I went.” He currently lives in New York City, where—as if embodying some aesthetic paradox—he may have observed a hawk hovering over this beautifully subdued Met rooftop exhibit, utterly unperturbed by the artist’s threatening fireworks.
Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle is an American poet and art critic. He lives in Paris and New York City.
Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and HomecomingBy Jacob Dreyer
SEPT 2021 | ArtSeen
One of the most prominent Chinese artists of the past two decades, Cai Guo-Qiang makes work that delves into the folkloric precursors to Chinas technocratic state, even as he regularly works with that state on his grandest projects.
Chryssa: Chryssa & New YorkBy David C. Shuford
JUNE 2023 | ArtSeen
Some 60 years after her breakout solo shows in 1961 at the Betty Parsons Gallery and the Guggenheim Museum, the pioneering artist Chryssa is finally back in the public eye. Showcasing an impressive range of work centered upon light and form, Chryssa & New York at Dia Chelsea is the first museum show in North America in over four decades to focus on the Greek-born artist Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali (19332013). Once considered a pivotal figure in the burgeoning dialogue amongst Pop, Minimalist, and Conceptual factions, Chryssas stature has suffered in recent decades, her profile fading as others in her milieu have had their reputations burnished to the level of cottage industries.
“A Totally Integrated Club Scene”: New York, New Music: 1980–1986 at the Museum of the City of New YorkBy Matthew Pessar Joseph
OCT 2021 | Music
Now, 1980s music has become anything but underground. Perhaps spurred by the cost of once artistically vibrant downtown neighborhoods like the East Village and SoHo, nostalgia for the decade has reached new heights.
New York Food ExhibitionsBy Mary Ann Caws
OCT 2022 | ArtSeen
As I write, there is at the Museum of the City of New York, a gigantic and vividly colorful exhibition entitled Food in New York: Bigger Than the Plate, which opened on September 16 to great acclaim in the newspaper and radio.