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Book Launch

Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming

An epic exploration of the artist internationally renowned for his unique gunpowder art
Edited by Simon Schama, with contributions by Simon Schama, Cai Guo-Qiang, Yu Hui, Wang Hui, Rachel Rivenc, Reiko Tomii, and Sang Luo
Trailer edited by Wang Zefan from videos produced by 33 Studio. Courtesy Cai Studio
DelMonico Books is pleased to announce the first publication to synthesize the fundamental concepts and methodological pursuits behind the art of Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957) since his 2008 Guggenheim retrospective exhibition catalogue I Want to Believe.
Large format, full color, hardcover, 372 pages. Includes over 730 exquisite images.
DelMonico | D.A.P. Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming, 2021
The book was edited by Sir Simon Schama, internationally renowned historian, art historian, and Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University. He has composed and hosted multiple acclaimed documentary series for the BBC, including Simon Schama’s Power of Art, Civilisations, and The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama
Still from the documentary series Civilisations, 2018
Featuring a comprehensive map and chronology and encompassing the visual and textual records from over three decades of Cai Guo-Qiang’s career, this book showcases the work of an artist renowned for his unique gunpowder art through his Individual’s Journey Through Western Art History. In a series of exhibitions at major museums and cultural sites around the world, including the Prado Museum, Uffizi Galleries, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, National Archaeological Museum of Naples and Pompeii Archaeological Park, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Cai has engaged in dialogues with periods of Western art history as presented by these institutions. By doing so, he poses the questions: Can different cultures reach mutual respect? Can great cultures specific to certain people become shared heritage for all humankind? The series also retraces Cai’s expansive journey of homecoming through dialogues with his original passion for painting, the spirit of Chinese culture, and his eternal home in the Cosmos.
Selections from Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming, 2021
This publication presents the culmination of Cai's Journey with the exhibition Odyssey and Homecoming at the Palace Museum which opened December 2020, their first ever by a contemporary artist, coinciding with the 600th anniversary of the Forbidden City. The exhibition has now travelled to the Jean Nouvel-designed Museum of Art Pudong in Shanghai. One of its inaugural exhibitions, Odyssey and Homecoming will be on view until March 2022. 
Selections from Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming showing Cai's exhibition at the Palace Museum, 2021
Now available at Artbook/DAP. Link to purchase here
Selections from Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming, 2021
Publication Highlights

Catalogue section (compiled by Sang Luo):

Cai has a long history of engaging with art history and using it as the subject of his works. He has lived outside his homeland China for thirty years, nomadically traversing different histories and cultures, while maintaining a deep affection for his native culture. From the outset, he has sought a cosmic framework and exercised an unbound freedom, regarding “all past and present human civilizations” as part of his own ancestry and history. In retrospect, his Journey is not so much one of retracing Western art history to discover breakthroughs in contemporary art, as it is one of self-dialogue and self-exploration.

Sir Simon Schama, “The Long Line of Fire—Explosive Epiphanies in Cai Guo-Qiang’s
Odyssey Through Western Art History”

In a way, Cai Guo-Qiang has always been a history painter, not in the literal and laborious sense that he has wanted his work to document events of his own lifetime and others but rather in a deeper involuntary sense in which his visual and tactile reflections on human and natural life amidst the flow of time, even cosmically measured.

Cai Guo-Qiang, “Homecoming, Ongoing”:
The sudden onslaught of the novel coronavirus forced all these cultural meccas I had just left to shut down all at once. People are panicking and debating over how the world will change post-pandemic, how humankind will never again be the same. Perhaps our predecessor artists are chatting and chuckling right now inside those exhibition galleries newly emptied of crowds: “Hey, didn’t we create these things on the walls during all those catastrophes? Including the Black Death?” Much as my Journey strives to find constancy in an everchanging world, I still wish to explore some fundamental questions, no matter where the pandemic takes us: What are our relationships with other people, with nature, and with the cosmos? And: Why do we love to paint? These are some of the considerations behind my works exhibited at the Palace Museum, considerations that have remained unchanged throughout my artistic pursuit across the decades.
Yu Hui (Director of the Institute of Chinese and Foreign Cultural Exchange, The Palace Museum, Beijing), “Becoming Nature Is Poetry Itself—Resonances of ‘Plaza Art’ from the Southern Song to Cai Guo-Qiang”:
To inspect whether the explosion of the “gunpowder art” that Cai invented is dispensable, we should simply consider whether the forms and effects achieved by his artistic process can be replicated by traditional materials, such as a brush and ink: they cannot. Behind every explosion lie unique glimpses of hidden landscapes that a brush and ink have no way of conveying—elegant petals glistening with moisture, and vast rivers winding through grand valleys—not only the tangible qualities of these works but also the ways they pique their audience’s interest are wholly their own, unattainable through the use of conventional brushes and ink. This is an entirely new world. And yet, simultaneously, it is an ancient one, as if through Cai’s work one could enter the profound ruminations of Laozi’s Dao de Jing once more… What is revealed is a heart of veneration toward the natural world by being formed, forged, and refined through the accomplishment of “epitomizing emptiness and guarding stillness.”
Wang Hui (Professor of Chinese Language & Literature and History at Tsinghua University, Beijing), “Undercurrent—From Cai Guo-Qiang’s October Project Onward”
Considering Cai’s own position in the contemporary art world, the Red Square explosion event, while unrealized, presents deeper implications that deviate from the contemporary art mainstream compared to his dazzling achievements in major museums, art festivals, and ceremonies. Though the act of seeking the ghost could only exist in the form of an undercurrent, it nevertheless strikes a continuous note at the narrative of art history and shows an ardor that flows in the form of reminiscence. In my view, tides without undercurrents can only course along the shallow riverbed. No matter how violent the waves, they inevitably run dry before they reach the opposite shore. There is therefore nothing that can better manifest the “unrealized century” than this method of upstream, precarious effort.
This, too, is the dialectic of defeat and victory.
Rachel Rivenc (Head of Conservation and Preservation at Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles), “Paradox of Entropy—Materials and Process in the Art of Cai Guo-Qiang”:
Cai has been very interested in the study and in understanding the aging properties of his material, both from a material and philosophical point of view. While he wants his work to endure, he also rightly does not want this knowledge to shackle his creativity. Ultimately, change is inevitable and time can also bring unexpected beauty.
“Even when something is eternal, you can’t own it forever. Eternity and permanence are different in Chinese. Eternity transcends the existence of time whereas permanence remains in the realm of time. So when we have dialogues with, and associate with eternity through art, we don’t attempt to tackle it from the permanence point of view; rather, we use the instantaneous way to grasp it. It feels like the myth of eternity, you could only taste it at the fleeting moment of chaos.”
Selection from Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming showing Project Footprint—
a comprehensive map of Cai's projects, 2021
“A Guide to Cai Guo-Qiang’s Dialogues: 99 Projects and Keywords,” compiled by independent scholar and curator Reiko Tomii and researched by Hsiu-man Lin, is the first-ever attempt to synthesize the fundamental concepts and methodological pursuits behind Cai’s art, introduced through a comprehensive map and “Notes on Keywords.”

What is one key idea that can decipher the concepts underlying Cai Guo-Qiang’s vast body of work? The artist himself would respond with a deceptively simple idea: to “present the unseen world through visible means.” This has defined his conceptual and methodological pursuit through the years, and serves as the cornerstone of his cosmology. Cai describes himself as a seed from his hometown. In order to blossom in different cultures, he has to believe that he is special yet universal—natural, unaffected, free. He regards art history, both Eastern and Western, as part of his “genes.” In my view, this regard is vital to creating a new art not just for the present but for the future, and for the whole of humanity—and perhaps even for extraterrestrials.
Cai Guo-Qiang running into Sleepwalking in the Forbidden City: Daytime Explosion Event for Virtual Reality, 2020
Photo by 33 Studio, courtesy Cai Studio
Cai Guo-Qiang: Odyssey and Homecoming is also available at AmazonBookshop, B&N, DelMonico Books, and Strand Bookstore.

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