The exhibition borrows its title from the work Cuyahoga River
Lightning: Drawing for the Cleveland Museum of Art, created
especially for this show. In the drawing created in 2018, Cai
chose to depict an aerial view of the Cuyahoga River from the
bend where it burned to the point where it feeds into Lake Erie.
He emphasized the waterway’s meandering form by extending the
river beyond the canvas. Additional gunpowder amassed at the
stretch of the river where the fire took place left a dense
conglomeration of burned, dark spots and sparks, marking an
increased intensity of the fiery ignition. The ignition of the
drawing, recorded on video, is part of the exhibition.
“Cai is the first and foremost artist who makes use of the medium
of gunpowder,” said Clarissa von Spee, chair of Asian art
and James and Donna Reid curator of Chinese art. “An explosive
mixture of sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter—gunpowder is a Chinese
invention known in China as ‘fire-medicine’ (huoyao). By
directing the destructive forces of the explosion, Cai creates
unique works of art, with outcomes often beyond his control.
Cai Guo-Qiang agreed to collaborate with us on a project that
commemorates a historic moment in Cleveland that had national
repercussions and inspires awareness about our endangered planet
Cai choreographed the fireworks for the 2008 Beijing Olympic
Games and has exhibited his gunpowder works in color at the
Prado Museum in 2017 and the Uffizi in 2018.