Photographed by Mary Ellen Mark for Art Asia Paciflc
Cai Guo‑Qiang, impresario of feng shui and all things explosive, is one of today's most important art world figures. This past September, in between travels to Seattle and Beijing, Cai invited Art Asia Pacific to his East Village studio in New York to show us how he works. Strewn throughout his workspace were his renowned gunpowder drawings, some leaning against the wall, others mounted as standing folding screens. A Ming‑dynasty bench allows one to rest and contemplate. Perched above in a corner near the ceiling, a merciful porcelain Guanyin Bodhisattva and a wooden Guan Yu, the god of good fortune, quietly preside over Cai's world. Sunlight floods the room.
Through a doorway, one enters an intimate courtyard with a stone footpath, a small pond and some green plants, and then passes into a brightly lit office of computers and enormous walls, which are completely covered with postcards, photographs, album covers. These bits of paper, pinned on the wall without any apparent logic, hold images that ignite Cai's imagination during his research for the Beijing 2008 Olympics opening and closing ceremony project‑night skies, swimming jellyfish, rainbows, exploding cars. However, among all this activity, which endeavors over the next few years to bring Cai's work to Suzhou, Beijing and, closer by, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, what pervades the atelier is an overwhelming sense of tranquility. ‑ ELAINE W. NG