Watch Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang blow up a 40-foot pine tree in DC's National Mall, because art

In what is probably one of the first-ever planned explosions on DC's National Mall, Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang will blow up a 40-foot pine tree to commemorate of the Sackler Gallery’s 25th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Art in Embassies program. Watch it live. From Washington City Paper:

Using 2,000 firework-like explosives, Guo-Qiang will take the pine tree through three pyrotechnic stages: The tree will first be covered in yellow and white sparkles of light. The lights will spread throughout the tree, simulating twinkling Christmas lights. Then the tree will explode in a cloud of black smoke, leaving a “negative” smoke image that resembles a Chinese ink painting drifting off into the wind. The idea is for the tree-shaped smoke to create the image of two trees—as seen in Guo-Qiang’s sketch.
More at the website for the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian art. For some stupid reason, they've blocked the ability to embed the live video, so you'll have to mosey on over to the Smithsonian website directly to watch the explosion webcast.


  1. Just for the record, they will be replacing the tree they’re blowing up.

    If he’s right about how it will look–and I get the sense that this has been thought through pretty carefully–then it sounds pretty cool to me. So yeah, because art!

    EDIT: Didn’t realize this had already happened, or rather failed to happen, or rather failed to happen the way he was expecting it to happen. Oh well… back to the sketch pad.

    1.   I was there for this, and the tree survived intact, which is a plus. As an event, it was extremely underwhelming and did not achieve the effect intended by the artist. No oohs and ahhs from the crowd, no applause, just a confused and seemingly disappointed mass of onlookers.
         I am familiar with Cai’s work and find some of it very impressive, but he really phoned it in on this one!

  2. Not art, sorry. i just came back from the preview exhibit of Matisse: In Search of True Painting at the Met. That’s art.

  3. As interesting as it probably would be, I fail to see how strapping explosives to an actual living thing and snuffing out its life because you can classifies as art. I mean yeah at the end of the day it is just a tree, I live in a house made out of lumber I use paper products daily, so its not like I’m absolutely morally apposed to the concept.

    It just seems crass and pointless……..
    This is where I realize that crass and pointless is essentially the definition of “art” isn’t it, oh well.

    Edit: I guess at the end of the day this did attain the highest possible aspiration any artist could hope for and that is evoking an emotional response. So good on him… yay art.

  4. Have you ever been walking down the street with someone, and as you pass by a tree or perhaps some shrubs, your companion reaches out and grabs a handful of leaves and rips them off a truant branch and throws them on the ground, continuing to walk and talk as if it was as natural as taking a breath?

    I disdain those people.

  5. There are becoming too many times when I see things that are considered art (and ‘artists’ get paid for) which are just things I would have loved to do as a kid or teenager.

    Making everyday things gigantic
    Reproducing or acquiring small things in mass quantity and displaying them in one gigantic set
    Putting big machinery, vehicles, objects in non-normal locations
    – and now, blowing up, in various stages of flourish, a big tree

    I think the thing is;  Once you establish yourself as an artist (especially with art critics), you can just get funding and do things which, if some no-name redneck did the same, would be considered silly nonsense by the ‘art world’ – But if a named artist reproduces and gigantically enlarges a humongous-denomination dollar bill and puts it on a billboard, it’s some comment on society or something:

    1. Well, isn’t that the point? I mean, a huge part of Art since the Dadaists at the turn of the 20th century has been the question of What Is Art? If some no-name redneck did it, would it still be art? Does intent mean anything when creating a creative work? Is it still art if it reaches for some aesthetic goal and doesn’t reach it? People spend entire academic careers asking these questions and as far as I can tell nobody really has a proper answer.

      Trying to pin down what art is inevitably excludes a bunch of people, and frankly, fuck that. As you observed yourself, it’s already a pretty damn exclusive club.

      1. I do very much appreciate the question and seeking of “what is art?” and I, too, have the same questions you stated
        I do consider this tree-fireworks project to be art – I just don’t understand why this particular project is getting so much adoration and respect and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because it’s being done by an established artist who’s a Chinese immigrant – as opposed to some lottery winning old coot in Alabama or the teenage son of an owner of a fireworks display company.

        But, yeah, in the big picture, I agree with your last statement totally.

        1. Celebrity is everything and always has been, right? Warhol did a great job illustrating that, half a century ago. Usually we only recognize the truly great artists well after they’re dead. While they’re living, it’s all just advertising.

    2. Typically, when “no-name rednecks” do something of similar scope and ambition, it is also called “art” – typically “outsider art.”

  6. Christ, I’m shocked at the number of fucking art gatekeepers on Boing Boing, of all places. This is Art under any meaningful definition of art, and the thing about art is that any good art is pushing the boundaries of how art is defined anyway. Just because you don’t like it, or even because is shit or doesn’t turn out how you wanted, doesn’t make it Not Art. To say otherwise is to keep Art an even more exclusive club than it is already. Don’t do that.

      1. Ha! And this despite at least half the content on Boing Boing being low-brow and popular art.

        Well maybe not shocked then. Just disappointed.

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