Contemporary Noah’s Arc
Cai Guo-Qiang at the Power Station of Art

Picture an arc against the Shanghai skyline: pandas, giraffes, zebras, polar bears, camels—a total of 99 animals reproduced in life size crowded together on a wooden fishing boat traveling slowly down the Huangpu River. Their destination: the Power Station of Art, where Cai Guo-Qiang’s major new exhibition project The Ninth Wave, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, is currently on view. Cai’s contemporary Noah’s Arc is also part of this show, which addresses the themes of ecology and environmental pollution—urgent issues that impact many people, particularly in Shanghai, which is plagued by dense smog. Last year, the cadavers of 16,000 pigs were suddenly found floating in the Huangpu, which provides drinking water to many of the city’s 26 million inhabitants. The animals Cai brought together on his boat seem less like the happy survivors of the Flood than seasick, shipwrecked castaways hanging onto the railing with the last ounce of their strength.

Animals play a central role in the work of Cai, who is probably the most internationally successful Chinese artist alive. In Heritage (2013), for instance, tigers, antelopes, and bears gather around a watering hole in an image of peaceful coexistence and contemplation. The installation feels like the counterpart to Head On, commissioned in 2006 by the Deutsche Bank Collection and currently presented on loan in The Ninth Wave exhibition. In this dramatic work, the artist, whose works occupy an entire floor of the Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt, set 99 life-sized wolves in scene, charging toward a wall of glass. They press inexorably forward and crash violently against the glass barrier. “I wanted to portray the universal human tragedy,” says Cai, “resulting from this blind urge to press forward, the way we try to attain our goals without compromise.”

Cai has created several monumental works especially for the exhibition at the Power Station of Art, among them Silent Ink, a 2,500-square-foot lake of black ink surrounded by building ruins—a warning and post-apocalyptic scene in one. Or the 90-foot-long, 12-foot-high gunpowder drawing The Bund Without Us, a panorama of Shanghai’s famous river promenade, “The Bund.” Here, however, the boulevard with its banks and colonial buildings is deserted; nature has long since reclaimed it. On the other hand, Birds and Flowers of Brazil (2013) is similarly powerful, but far more conciliatory. This gunpowder drawing celebrates the natural wealth of the South American country while touching upon the themes and aesthetic of classical Chinese painting.

The Power Station of Art (PSA) is China’s first publicly funded museum for contemporary art. The former power station is the showplace for the Shanghai Biennial and cooperates with international partners such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Since its opening, the PSA has pursued an ambitious communication program in order to win over as many people to contemporary art as possible.

Cai Guo-Qiang: The Ninth Wave
8/8 – 10/26/2014
Power Station of Art, Shanghai