Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, main bilding
Moscow – The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts announces the long-anticipated opening of renowned international artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s first solo exhibition in Russia: October. On the occasion of the October Revolution’s centenary, Cai specifically created for the Pushkin Museum a series of bold new works that reflect on the role of individuals in history and the relationship between individual dreams and collective ideals. The exhibition will be held with the support of Sberbank and will be on view in the main building of the museum from September 13 to November 12, 2017, as a crucial component of the “Pushkin XXI” project.
During the past two weeks prior to the exhibition’s opening, local passers-by often gathered outside the Museum to photograph the installation Autumn, their posts stirring curious discussion on social media about the classical architecture’s transformation. A 16m-high mountain constructed out of hundreds of stacked baby cradles, cribs and strollers gradually rose at the entrance of the centuries-old museum, engulfing the front steps and colonnade. Then over three days, a crane planted one to two white birch trees of 3-4m in each cradle and birch saplings in each stroller. The larger trees shelter the small, forming a verdurous birch forest. During the installation process, this forest has already begun to yellow from the oncoming autumn. Over the course of the exhibition, the fallen leaves will blanket the mountainside, revealing the white trunks of the birches and the Constructivist-like structure of the mountain itself.
Literally obstructing the museum entrance, the dominating Autumn marks the beginning of an entirely original visual experience. Inside, the artist continues to manipulate the museum’s space. Hovering over the central staircase is The Sound,a 20m-long piece of silk scorched with gunpowder calligraphy that divides the lofty space in half. The two-dimensional art of calligraphy and painting is transformed into a poetic, spatial installation work filled with momentum. As viewers ascend the staircase, hovering overhead on the smooth white silk is a cautionary lyric from The Internationale: “There are no supreme saviors: neither God, nor tsar, nor hero!” By the time the words seem within reach, the visitor will have entered the White Room.
The ceiling is covered by a silver mirror, multiplying the already expansive space. Two 20m-long gunpowder paintings on the facing walls, River and Garden, surrounds the field of Land in the center of the room. With this installation, created from nearly three million stalks of golden reed, Cai hopes to recreate the sense of mystery found in the Soviet films and Russian paintings of his childhood — the sunlight filtering through the clouds and shining on the wheat field, and likewise projecting into an adolescent mind the romantic ideas with regard to the freedom and beauty of life. Only through the reflection in the mirror overhead can viewers discern the symbols hidden within the crop circle. Simultaneously reflected are the countless images of civilians embedded within the black-and-white River of turbulent history, the colorful poppies, carnations, and Soviet posters found in the fantastical Garden, as well as the viewers themselves.
This inverse illusion leads viewers to reflect on their own relationships with the works.
The exhibition reaches its climax with the video projection October: Daytime Fireworks on Red Square. As the orchestral arrangement of Tchaikovsky sounds, daytime fireworks launch from Red Square and the Moskva riverbank, painting one image after another in the sky, each filled with somber sensibility. The performance concludes with one hundred seconds of earthshattering, thunderous explosions, leaving behind a blinding white flash.
Beginning on September 4, Cai worked with local volunteers on-site at VDNKh No.22 to ignite the gunpowder works River, The Sound and Garden. The volunteers laid out a river of history with one hundred photographs depicting the lives of ordinary people; they taught Cai to write Russian calligraphy, and etched out enormous stencils of flowers. After Cai ignited each work, they rushed in to extinguish the sparks remaining on canvas. Together with the artist, they experienced the moments of suspense prior to each explosion and witnessed the birth of each work.
A bilingual catalogue in English and Russian will be available at the end of September. In addition to numerous images detailing the process and outcome of the exhibition, the catalogue will also include Cai’s stirring personal essay “A Boy’s October” and scholarly contributions by Alexandra Danilova, Alexander Etkins, Boris Groys, Lars Nittve. The catalogue integrates personal, historical, artistic and political perspectives, echoing and responding to the themes and questions raised by the exhibition.
This November, the exhibition will unveil a documentary film of the same name, directed by Shanshan Xia. The film not only details the many stories behind the making of the exhibition, but also presents Cai’s search of the Russian painter Konstantin Maksimov. It hopes, through the narrative of these two artists, to candidly address the vacillation and persistence of artists during changing times.
Cai Guo-Qiang’s project in Russia extends the tradition of joint projects by the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and Sberbank. In November 2016, the exhibition Making The Invisible Visible opened. A special collaborative project between the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and Sberbank, it was the first exhibition in Russia that showcases the tactile paintings from the museum’s collection; with the use of innovative technology, the exhibition produced special experience for the bline and the visually impaired. Since February 2017, the exhibition started its tour around Russia. It has already been visited by audiences in cities such as Kazan, Volgograd, Voronezh, Yekaterinburg, and Omsk.
Curator – Alexandra Danilova, Deputy head of the Department of European and American Arts of the XIX – XX centuries (the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts)