Pyrotechnic Event

Sackler Gallery and Arts in Embassies Presented Artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Explosion Event” Nov. 30, 2012
Chinese-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang staged one of his remarkable “explosion events,” a thrilling combination of pyrotechnics, artistry and optical illusion in four dimensions Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. The event was presented by the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Art in Embassies, an office of the U.S. Department of State, and is in celebration of the Sackler’s 25th and Art in Embassies’ 50th anniversaries.

Shortly after 3 p.m. on the north side of the Freer Gallery of Art, a live 40-foot-tall pine tree erupted in an effervescent shimmer of fireworks as if in a “tree lighting” ceremony, followed by a cascade of black ink-like smoke that mimics the flowing beauty of traditional Chinese brush drawings. The black tree-shaped cloud of smoke drifting through the air created a spectral scene of two trees, one real and one ethereal. The site-specific staging is part of Cai’s larger series of “explosion projects,” which have been featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and Central Park in New York City. The event will be streamed live at

Cai, a Chinese-born, New York-based contemporary artist, is one of the five artists being honored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Art in Embassies with the State Department’s Medal of Art, in recognition of his contributions to cultural exchange.

Cai was born in 1957 in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China. Trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy, his work has since crossed multiple mediums within art, including drawing, installation, video and performance art. While in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an inquiry that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale and to the development of his signature explosion events. Drawing on Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, these projects and events aim to establish an exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them, using a site-specific approach to culture and history. He currently lives and works in New York.

The event marks the beginning of a landmark collaboration between the Sackler and Art in Embassies. In coming years, the Sackler will host exhibitions of works by contemporary Asian and Asian American artists before their installation by Arts in Embassies at new U.S. embassies overseas. This partnership will allow both institutions to continue educational outreach through artist residencies, innovative programming and cultural exchange.