Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cai Guo-Qiang-- I want to believe these cars won't fall on my head

In short summation-- a show totally worth seeing, if only for the herd of Geo Metros being "bombed" up and over utilizing the Gug's atrium. It's a pretty stunning piece, especially from beneath. When you really look at how a vehicle explodes, the centrifugal forces always start with the motion of the trunk popping up vertically, then doing a somersault in mid-air. Cai Guo-Qiang uses the laws of physics and the structural weight-baring capacity of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture to his own benefit with this brilliant take on the initial impact of a suicide car bombing.

Of course there's commentary here on the "war on terror," but you realize that with the cheaply mass produced "Metro" in use, that this is more than just a war being waged on Islamic fundamentalism, but also a shot to the heart of capitalist worshippers everywhere. We're losing the economic war to the behemoth powerhouse that the People's Republic of China has become. Whether telling of emerging artists, or emerging markets, Qiang's wildly successful when he's working with the sublime.

Truth be told, I found this much more Studio 54 meets Macy's 4th of July, but hey, what do I know.

"Head On," (aka the "piece with 99 lifelike wolves running and leaping in formation up the ramps of the museum, eventually crashing head-first into a plexiglass wall)-- is a tour de force, but I was pretty darn disappointed by the guys up close. I had expected these fierce creatures who'd rip me apart shred by shred; instead, what I got was a bunch of natty-looking stuffed animals that you'd see some kid throwing a fit over inside F.A.O. Schwartz. Their faces looked almost lovable at some points, and their eyes reminded me of a teddy bear's. Except for the gummy mouths gaped open in mid howl/growl there wasn't much ferocity behind them. After all, the piece isn't necessarily about nature and man, but more on man's #1 quality of being more lemming than lemmings. "Learn from your ancestors," Qiang seems to cry. Unfortunately, no one listens. Oly herself randomly smiled and walked under the wolves admiring their anatomically correct parts.

Now I must say that I'm digging that the Guggenheim is making great strides in showing the contemporary artists of today, but honestly, I felt that the show drags a bit-- especially towards the top levels.

The gunpowder "drawings" are beautiful creations, but they don't seem to work in the very architecture of the Guggenheim itself. The ceilings seem to cramp their style. I felt that they need a much more monumental wall to hang from-- here, they felt almost secondary to the randomly placed video screenings throughout the show. Either way, you've got to enjoy the sheer pyrotechnic power of Qiang's work. But honestly, I'm more into the work of another artist who specializes in explosions-- Ms. Rosemarie Fiore.


Maybe it's that side of me that craves "color" and all that jazzmatazz, but the sepia tonalities made me sink into a deep visual depression. It seemed as if I was trapped in a Buddhist temple with no way out.

Also of note besides the exhibit itself was the relaunching of the newly refurbished exterior of the Guggenheim. They really did right to do the much-needed repairs, and the facade is just immaculate right now. It felt almost like going back in time to its heyday.



Anonymous said...


I am curious. is it more surreal the way the cars are hung in the Guggenheim, vertical as opposed to stretched out in a line?

Here in Seattle they're in the front lobby at the SAM but broken up towards the end of the arc. I always thought that was an awkward way to show them; they're not cramped but the effect is definitely altered from the original installation.

Oly said...

I think once again that it depends on your perception.

As you go up the ramps, the piece loses so much of its raw power.

It's almost like a car dealership on levels 3-5.

I really feel that only from beneath the structure can you really get a sense of what's going on.

And from the very top-down, it's extremely weak.

I'd be interested to see the Seattle one up close myself.