On February 21, artist Cai Guo-Qiang wowed onlookers in Naples with “Explosion Studio”—an explosion of gunpowder and colored smoke at The Pompeii Ampitheatre. At the center of the space was a number of canvases and objects related to art and daily life in Pompeii, which were later the center of small explosions. Next, an outburst of colorful fireworks was set off along the canvases, mimicking a volcanic eruption. After the commotion came to a close, the artist and his team excavated of the artifacts, collecting the manmade ruins and the canvases, which had been newly transformed into “gunpowder paintings.”
The debris was then collected and presented at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN) in an exhibition curated by Jérôme Neutres and titled “In the Volcano: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii.” On view through May 20 at the museum, the exhibition is inspired by the tragic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Today, it offers a poetic recount of the historic event, bringing to light its exceptional discovery and archaeological finds.
The show is composed of works from the explosion—including excavated artifacts and a gunpowder painting over 104 feet long—that are presented in the museum with original Pompeiian artifacts. The outcome? A surprising exploration of an ongoing artistic journey, bridging the gap between the past and the present.
“When Vesuvius erupted, burying the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, nature created a masterpiece, taking catastrophe as its medium and preserving the monumental heritage as a time-space capsule…” said Guo-Qiang. “For this project, I tried to let the hormones take the lead, to create something with a touch of ferocity, at a time when people often strive to be too civilized. Can I not simply stage an uncontrolled eruption, recalling the volcano and the day of judgment of Pompeii? A completely unexpected event, something that appears right on our path!”
With the support of the Morra Foundation and Archaeological Park of Pompeii, the exhibition at MANN is accompanied a documentary by Shanshan Xia.