Lot 1016
  • 1016

Cai Guo-Qiang

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Cai Guo-Qiang
  • Sun Dial
  • gunpowder and ink on paper laid on canvas
signed and titled in Chinese and dated 1995, framed


France, Paris, Espace Cardin, Paris-Pékin, 5-28 October, 2002, p. 67
China, Beijing, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Our Future: The Guys & Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection, 19 July - 12 October, 2008, pp. 42-43


Christine Buci-Glucksmann ed., Modernités Chinoises, Skira Editore, Milan, Italy, 2003, p. 174
Thirty Years of Chinese Contemporary ART 1979-2009, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, China, 2010, p. 178

Catalogue Note

Birth in Fire 
Cai Guo-Qiang

The emphasis in Eastern philosophy on unity with nature has always played an important role in the art of Cai Guo-Qiang, and a review of his creative path reveals ubiquitous extensions of this concept. Beginning in his years in Japan in the 1990s, Cai explored circle and birth motifs in a series of major firework projects. He began using the sundial as a symbol, and exploring it as a creative idea, sometime around 1995. Indeed, the importance of the sundial motif to Cai's subsequent work has often been cited. In 2008, Cai returned to the sundial theme for his fireworks performance for the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. "Right from the beginning, we took the round opening of the Bird's Nest as a zero, a circle. It formed a foil for the themes of civilisation and harmony. Starting with a circle was the spark for the sundial idea".1 From the 1990s until today, the sundial has been an important theme in Cai's work. Sun Dial (Lot 1016), created in 1995, is an early cornerstone of this important theme that also concretely embodies the artist's Eastern philosophy.

This unique piece depicts two separate halos, one larger at the base of the work, while a miniature counterpart floats atop the primary circle. While the top circle resembles a starburst of sorts, the lower, larger circle has regular patterns, etchings that are akin to markings, not unlike those of the titular sundial. The two rings are mesmerising and co-exist, and evoke structural qualities echoing the precision as dictated by feng-shui doctrines, which Cai has repeatedly mentioned as one of his artistic devices. Sun Dial was to become the launch of an entire series exploring this motif, shifting to horizontal depictions later on. Sun Dial, with its vertical composition, is rare in this aspect, better alluding, perhaps, to the correspondence between the earth and nature.

Just one year prior to the completion of Sun Dial, Cai organised a panel discussion specifically on feng-shui , entitled "Feng Shui: The Present Day Feng Shui and Cai Guo-Qiang's Mito Project" . This discussion concerned itself with the modern inclusion of feng-shui in society, and Cai's usage of it in a project he participated in in the Japanese province of Mito. Following this, during his early years in New York, the curator Anneli Fuchs commented that Cai's oeuvre "rests on a foundation of religious, philosophical, and aesthetic traditions that go back thousands of years."2 She remarked that, among other inspirations, Cai drew mainly from the concepts of feng-shui and herbal medicine. Thus one can see that Cai's themes of feng-shui: such as the sundial, did not go unnoticed. It was this intriguing incorporation of feng-shui—ancient theologies based on geometry—with modern aesthetics that so fascinated Cai's audience. But moreover, it was his unique ability to modernise the ancient medium gunpowder that truly sets him apart.

1 "The Art of Cai Guo Qiang", Artforum International, Summer 1997, p. 119

2 Zhao Yang and Wei Jing Li, Cai Guo Qiang, Guangxi Normal University Press, 2010, p. 92