When China puts on a show for the rest of the world during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing, the man responsible for putting pop into the festivities will be artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Cai might seem an unlikely choice, given his status as a renowned expatriate, having left China in the late eighties and lived in New York since 1995. But his unique experience using explosives as art—including fireworks events over Central Park and the East River in recent years—makes him a perfect choice.
Though Cai’s lips are sealed about his plans for 08.08.08, as the Games are known in Beijing, there are clues in the huge retrospective of his work that is now at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (through May 28) before traveling to the National Art Museum of China in Beijing this summer. Packed with exploding cars, writhing tigers, and leaping wolves, the exhibition shows the artist’s substantial range and ambition.
“I wanted the museum to be fully loaded, like a firecracker about to blow up,” says the artist. In the Guggenheim’s atrium he suspended several cars festooned with rods of flashing lights so that they appear to be tumbling and exploding in midair. There are video projections of his fantastic fireworks events as well as a selection of his elegant gunpowder drawings, made by detonating explosives on the surface of paper.
When asked to explain the global appeal of his projects, Cai replies: “Danger, risk, adventure, possibilities.”
Once upon a time, most self-respecting artists dismissed the idea of working on corporate projects as too commercial, as selling out. (At least that’s how it’s remembered.) But in today’s big-money, free-ranging, market-savvy art world, to adopt such righteous notions would seem almost quaint.
So last year, when New York art consultant Cary Leitzes approached ten artists about creating works for Pepsi cans, all of them, she says, jumped on board. The artists—among them Assume Vivid Astro Focus of Brazil, Stella Lai of China, and the Russian duo Vinogradov and Dubossarsky—had complete creative freedom, sort of: The art couldn’t interfere with the logo; they could use only six colors (five of which had to be specific Pepsi colors); and red could account for only 20 percent of the design—that’s Coke’s color.
“I felt it was important that the work have an eye-catching, seductive quality,” says Leitzes. “And I wanted the artists to be at a certain level in the art world.” Unfortunately, the cans won’t be distributed in the United States, but given their potential as inexpensive collector’s items, don’t be surprised to find them on eBay.
The Kaufmann House
On May 13 Christie’s is auctioning off one of America’s midcentury icons: Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House in Palm Springs. Unusually, it is being offered in the firm’s evening sale of postwar and contemporary art—a strategy that speaks to the growing crossover between art and design collecting. Completed in 1946 for the department store magnate Edgar Kaufmann (who also commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater), the house is expected to fetch $15 million to $25 million.
Julius Shulman, the 97-year-old legendary photographer who has documented much of California’s great modern residential architecture, shot the most famous image of the Kaufmann House. (Julius Shulman: Palm Springs was recently published by Rizzoli.) Shulman’s 1947 photo was taken at twilight, with Mrs. Kaufmann reclining beside the pool. “My photograph was prompted by my reaction to the drama of the San Jacinto Mountains as they loomed darkly over the quietude, and the wonderful alpenglow after sunset,” Shulman says. “My timing, during a forty-five-minute exposure, consisted of capturing the interior lighting in unison with nature’s endowment.
“I have visited the residence numerous times since 1947, gaining new respect for Neutra’s masterpiece,” Shulman says, adding, “Twenty-five million dollars is only money for such an achievement of art.”