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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Madrid’s Prado museum hosts Chinese artist’s explosive art inspired by Spain’s greats

The smell of gunpowder lingered in Madrid’s Prado museum just hours after China’s Cai Guo-Qiang, famed for his explosive art, put the finishing touch to an exhibition inspired by Spain’s greats.

art-and-culture Updated: Oct 26, 2017 08:46 IST

Two women stand in front of The Spirit of Painting by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.
Two women stand in front of The Spirit of Painting by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.(AFP)

Better used to the work of long-dead painters, this is the first time that Madrid’s Prado museum has welcomed an artist-in-residence, Cai Guo-Qiang, whose internationally-acclaimed contemporary work stands in stark contrast to the centuries-old masterpieces normally on show.

In his exhibition, some of which was produced on-site using his trademark gunpowder, the Chinese artist sought inspiration from famous artists such as El Greco, Spain’s Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez, as well as other painters in the collection like Peter Paul Rubens.

The result? A literal explosion of colour and darkness that reveals silhouettes, faces and landscapes, at times obvious and imposing, other times small and discreet. It’s a “dialogue between today’s art and the art of the past”, the 59-year-old told reporters.

Cai makes his work by sprinkling gunpowder over his canvases and over stencils of whatever scene or figure he wants to create or re-create, sometimes mixed with colour. Then he sets fire to the powder. Sometimes, he says, he covers the canvas and gunpowder with cardboard and bricks to make the explosion more powerful.

For the eight works created on-site at the Prado, he used gunpowder from a company in the eastern region of Valencia known for its annual, firecracker-mad Fallas festival — and that gave him a few scares. “Valencia gunpowder is really powerful, really strong,” he said, smiling.

Cai only finished his last, 18-metre-long (59-foot-long) work of art called The spirit of painting on Monday evening, which explained the lingering smell of gunpowder. A burst of colours and darkness, the painting re-creates classic scenes or figures from past artists — but with a modern twist. Goya’s The Naked Maja, an image of a reclining Venus in the nude, now appears at the top of the canvas pulled by a plane flying through a brief burst of light, as if on an advertising banner.

Rubens’ Diana and her Nymphs surprised by Satyrs, which features what is considered one of the most sensual nudes in the Flemish artist’s entire oeuvre, also appears in Cai’s 10-canvas painting. Above the classic, stencilled scene appear stencils of trouser zippers opening up — an illustration of “carnal desire”, says Cai. The exhibition is on until March 4 next year.

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First Published: Oct 26, 2017 08:45 IST

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