LOS ANGELES — We were all gathered outside the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary space near the Arts District, waiting patiently for the show to start. We’d lined up around the block, and I quietly wondered when things would get going and suddenly it seemed like a giant fireball was hurtling toward us. The whole crowd panicked, then screamed, then hooted, then cheered. Another fireball burst, and then it finished almost as quickly as it had started.
Cai Guo-Qiang certainly knows how to make an entrance. One of the most well-known Chinese artists in the West, Cai is perhaps best known for orchestrating the fireworks for the Beijing Olympics. He’s recently had two high profile shows, Saraab, in the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and I Want to Believe, at the Guggenheim. Sky Ladder is the artist’s West Coast solo debut.
From my vantage point, it was difficult to see the exact nature of the explosion, but it left a number of crop circle imprints on the outside wall. According to MOCA’s press release, there were in fact four stages of explosions, starting with 40,000 rockets launched perpendicularly from MOCA’s northern wall. One of the stages carved out an “imaginary alien-god figure,” now visible on the wall.
Inside, we can see many works reminiscent of extraterrestrial and outer space lore. The most prominent is “Crop Circle,” a reed installation suspended from the ceiling and inspired by the mysterious crop circle patterns found around the world. A series of videos inside shows the process of creation of new works for the show, as well as intriguing documentation of “Sky Ladder,” an as-yet unrealized attempt to create a gunpowder drawing over the cities of Bath, Shanghai and Los Angeles.
So much of Cai’s work is about process, and MOCA has done a terrific job of blogging about the many days of work in preparing for the opening night, as well as developing the works specific to the show. But my favorite part was overhearing Angelenos’ fresh interpretation. In the concept video of “Sky Ladder,” we watched a ladder burst into flames hundreds of feet above the Griffith Observatory and Hollywood Hills. The crowd ooh’d and aah’d, as if it had already actually happened. And maybe, with enough support, it will.
Cai Guo-Qiang: Sky Ladder runs till July 30, 2012 at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, 125 North Central Avenue.