A Material Odyssey – USC Pacific Asia Museum (2024)

September 17, 2024 through June 15, 2025

A Material Odyssey – USC Pacific Asia Museum (1)

For several decades, artist Cai Guo-Qiang has used gunpowder and pyrotechnics to create drawings, paintings, and explosion events. The exhibition Cai Guo-Qiang:A Material Odyssey will fill the first floor galleries at the USC Pacific Asia Museum. Based on years of research by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Getty Research Institute, A Material Odyssey will explore the nature and properties of gunpowder and chronicle its use by the artist. This explosive material, invented in China over 1,100 years ago, has come to define Cai’s work. Its unpredictable nature dictates his artistic process and determines the outcome. Through gunpowder, the artist invites uncontrollable forces to participate in the creation of his work. With an abundance of artworks and scientific displays, the exhibition will narrate the lifelong love story of Cai Guo-Qiang with gunpowder.

Programs accompanying A Material Odyssey will include videos illustrating the making of fireworks, the process of creating gunpowder paintings, interactive displays, and a variety of film screenings and conversations.

About Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China) was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy in the early 1980s. From December 1986 to September 1995, he sojourned in Japan. Cai has resided and worked in New York since 1995.

Cai has excelled in a broad range of creative mediums, from painting, installation, video art, and performance art, to new technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), NFTs, blockchain, and artificial intelligence (AI). Grounded in the conceptual foundations of Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues, his often-site-specific artworks interpret and respond to the local culture and history, establishing a dialogue between viewers and the larger universe around them. His famed gunpowder paintings, explosion events, and installations are imbued with a force that transcends the two-dimensional plane to oscillate freely between society and nature.

Over three decades, Cai has had numerous solo exhibitions in major art museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006, and a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2008, the latter of which broke the museum’s then-attendance record of a visual art exhibition.

In 2015, Cai realized the explosion event Sky Ladder in his hometown of Quanzhou. The eponymous documentary film, directed by Academy Award winner Kevin MacDonald, was released globally on Netflix. In recent years, Cai embarked on his Individual’s Journey Through Western Art History—a series of exhibitions held in world-renowned museums, including the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow (2017); Museo del Prado, Madrid (2017); Uffizi Galleries, Florence (2018); National Archaeological Museum of Naples and Pompeii Archaeological Park (2019). In December 2020, on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Forbidden City, Cai presented Odyssey and Homecoming, becoming the first contemporary artist to have a solo exhibition at the Palace Museum in Beijing. The following year, Odyssey and Homecoming travelled to the new Jean Nouvel–designed Museum of Art Pudong in Shanghai, as one of the opening exhibitions.

Cai has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Golden Lion at the 1999 Venice Biennale, the Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007, and the 2009 f*ckuoka Prize. In 2012, he was honored as a Laureate for the prestigious Praemium Imperiale in the painting category. The award recognizes lifetime achievement in the arts across categories not covered by the Nobel Prize. The same year, he was named as one of five artists to receive the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts for his outstanding commitment to international cultural exchange. His recent honors include the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Award in 2015, the 7th Isamu Noguchi Award in 2020, the Rockefeller 3rd Award in 2022, and the 74th Art Encouragement Prize by Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology in 2024. Cai also served as the Director of Visual Effects and Fireworks for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

About PST ART: Art & Science Collide

Southern California’s landmark arts event Pacific Standard Time—now PST ART—returns in September 2024 with more than 70 exhibitions from museums and other institutions across the region, all exploring the intersections of art and science—past, present, and in the imaginable future. Dozens of cultural, scientific, and community organizations will join the latest edition, PST ART: Art & Science Collide, to share groundbreaking research, create indelible experiences for the public, and generate new ways of understanding our complex world.

PST ART:Art & Science Collidefollows Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (September 2017–January 2018) and Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980 (October 2011– March 2012). PST ART is presented by Getty. Lead partners are Bank of America, Alicia Miñana & Rob Lovelace, and the Getty Patron Program.The principal partner is Simons Foundation.For more information about PST ART:Art & Science Collide, please visit:pst.art.


Will the permanent collection be closed for the exhibition?

Yes, this exciting partnership with the Getty means that Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition will fill our entire first floor galleries!

The galleries will start closing in phases beginning July 1st:

  • July 1, 2024: Himalayan Gallery, South & Southeast Asian Galleries
  • July 15, 2024: Pacific Islands Gallery
  • July 22, 2024: Chinese, Korean and Japanese Galleries
  • August 19, 2024: Special exhibition galleries close once Searching for Home exhibition ends.

When will the Permanent Galleries reopen?

The permanent galleries will reopen after the Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition ends on June 15, 2025.

The permanent gallery temporary closures means we get to reimagine each gallery space. Stay tuned for more information as our curatorial team plans the reinstallation of the galleries in phases with guest curators, scholars and community input scheduled for reopening beginning fall 2025!

Will there be any permanent collection items on view?

Yes! As part of the USC PAM and Getty partnership, our curator, Dr. Rebecca Hall is including permanent collection items to be in conversation with Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition. More details to come!

You can also view select collection items on the Search the Collection portion of our website.

How can I purchase tickets to the exhibition?

Tickets will be available for advanced purchase on our website beginning in early September.

When will School Tours and Group Tours begin?

The School Tours Program will continue as usual! The program will focus on the new special exhibition. Applications for field trips will be available in late August 2024 for the academic year (October – May).

Group tours will begin in October, stay tuned for more information!

How will this affect my membership?

Your USC Pacific Asia Museum membership will still be valid to use for complimentary access to our special exhibition galleries, the courtyard, and Crossroads: Exploring the Silk Road. Stay tuned for members-only programs that will take place throughout 2025 that will offer a sneak peek into learning more about the reimagined permanent galleries.

A Material Odyssey – USC Pacific Asia Museum (2024)


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