Cai Guo-Qiang

Wolves--99, in fact--prowl the Guggenheim thanks to this nature boy's whacked-out career survey.

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In a commissions-packed year—including Olympic-sized gunpowder explosions for Beijing’s opening ceremonies—Cai Guo-Qiang (whose name is pronounced “Tsai Gwo-Chang”) recently spent 40 days at the Guggenheim installing the show “I Want to Believe.” The museum’s director and the exhibit’s cocurator, Thomas Krens, calls the project “one of the most ambitious, even daring installations we’ve ever done, and certainly the most intense from a logistical standpoint.” Cai and his crew worked two shifts. During the day, while the museum was open, visitors observed their progress. Then, from six at night to two in the morning—in comparative privacy—engineers in cherry pickers supervised mountain climbers rappelling through the six-story rotunda, stabilizing large-scale hanging works. Head On (pictured at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin) is among the biggest pieces to have emerged from this chaos. Fri 22–May 20.


Head On, fully installed, with its final glass wall in place, is visible in silhouette from across the rotunda. Coming closer, viewers must wend their way between wolves to continue walking. Krens’s cocurator Alexandra Munroe notes that artists often take the museum’s architecture as a challenge: “They want to attack it and transform it.”


Cai emigrated from China’s Fujian province in 1986, in his late twenties. He conceived Head On in Germany in 2006. Like much of his work, it engages directly and vividly with politics: The plate glass the wolves gallop into is, he says, “not an exact replica of the Berlin Wall. I wanted a transparent boundary, harder to see and harder to escape from.”


The work’s 99 leaping lupi are really wolves in goats’ clothing—the hides of Fujian farm goats, rebuilt around straw-and–papier mâché wolf bodies and given sharp new resin incisors. They were fabricated at Quanzhou Xinwen, a craft factory run by the artist’s brother. “They know what I like,” he says. “Not too realistic, but not too loose either.”

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