Cai Guo-Qiang - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 26, 2016 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    The Albion Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Edinburgh, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Cai Guo-Qiang: Life Beneath the Shadow, 30 July - 25 September, 2005

  • Literature

    Fiona Bradley, ed., Cai Guo-Qiang: Life Beneath The Shadow, exh. cat., Edinburgh, The Fruitmarket Gallery, 2005, pp. 18, 46-47 (illustrated)
    Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Cai Guo-qiang’s genius lies in his ability to transcend forms of art and media in a single artwork all at once. His long-standing interest in capturing what is fundamental in humanity and its existence can be seen as an intellectual exercise, and is certainly one that has continuously pushed his artistic creations to new heights. Throughout his much-acclaimed career, Cai has always been unbound by traditions and logical convenience, his search for issues or topics for his projects follow this need to delve into the core of existence. He explores dichotomies between time and space, reality and make-believe, the magical and the mundane with the deliberate nature of a scientist, anthropologist and philosopher. Cai identifies himself as a citizen of not only a single race or nation, but of the world and, in fact, of the universe. Through his works, he endeavours to lift himself as well as his audience into an elevated realm that connects the world with the universe, achieving the ancient Chinese philosophical thought of 'sky and people unite' (tianren heyi), meaning 'oneness with the universe'. Beginning from his Projects for Extraterrestrial in 1990, he looked towards the 'heavens' in the literal sense for his creations; here in the present lot, he explores the word in its spiritual sense, presenting the subject of the supernatural, mythology or religion as an urge in human beings to explain our meaning of existence and identity.

    The Brahan Seer is part of a series of works that are inspired by Scottish historical legends that Cai created in Edinburgh in 2005. The series was a production of thirteen portraits of occultists, writers, seers, both real and legendary, derived from folklore and tales (See Michelle Yun, in Cai Guo-qiang - I Want To Believe, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, p. 122). The works were later exhibited at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, an exhibition which opened with the dramatic explosion of an ominously beautiful black firework rainbow over Edinburgh Castle. Life Beneath the Shadow: The Brahan Seer is Cai’s visual imagination of the Brahan Seer, a 17th century prophet who, according to legend, predicted the future with the use of the Adder stone, a stone with a hole in the middle, to see his visions. His fame as a diviner ironically would bring a tragic end, as his prediction about the infidelity of the husband of the ruling Countess of Seaforth led to his execution for practicing witchcraft. In this work, Cai challenges the notion of traditional portraiture, and infuses the work with a theatrical narrative, by depicting a silhouette of the soul of the Seer rising above his bodily ashes, with a dove flying above as the Seer supposedly predicted prior his death. Cai demonstrates his rich visual vocabulary and unrivalled, expressive imaginative capabilities as a storyteller, while engaging with the rich, local Scottish history and culture.

    Throughout his works, Cai has expanded and exploited the many purposes and meanings of gunpowder, a Chinese invention that is traditionally used as a celebratory instrument. Here in the Edinburgh series, it is used for creating a dialogue with the unseen world, to create reality out of illusions, as well as to connect the living and the dead. Gunpowder explosions, an ephemeral medium in Cai’s art, destroys and creates at the same time. It can imbue a sense of wonder, capture a moment of lyrical magic, and is truly an apt medium within the context of this highly representative work by Cai, to explore the multi-layered meaning of mythology and the supernatural.


Life Beneath the Shadow: The Brahan Seer

signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'The Brahan Seer [in English and Chinese] 2005 Cai Guo-Qiang Edinburgh' lower right
gunpowder and ink on paper
200 x 150 cm. (78 3/4 x 59 in.)
Executed in 2005.

HK$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for HK$1,125,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 27 November 2016