Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Black Christmas Tree (Explosion Event)”

December 4, 2012

The Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Art is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary with a series of events. On Friday, artist Cai Guo-Qiang got to blow up a 40 foot tall evergreen tree on the National Mall.


Cai, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is an accomplished contemporary artist who, among other things, designed the opening and closing ceremony fireworks for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

The artist was in town to celebrate both the Sackler’s 25th and the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program.

My favorite promo was courtesy of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Gallery, which posted this on it’s facebook page:

If you think the main problem with Christmas trees is that they don’t blow up, we’ve got the thing for you. Back in 2004, the Hirshhorn and the Sackler teamed up to present the incendiary work of Cai Guo-Qiang:

Today at 3 pm out in front of the Freer, the artist stages one of his “Explosion Events,” when a 40-foot pine erupts in a shower of sparks and a cascade of smoke. Why? Because the Sackler turns 25 and Art in Embassies turns 50. (And with that many candles, a cake can get kind of spitty.)

Intrigued, on Friday afternoon a friend and I wandered across the Mall at the appointed time and joined the sizable crowd gathered along the north side of the Freer Gallery.

The Washington Post has a video of the artist describing his intentions, interspersed with footage of the actual explosions. It’s not the same as being there, but here it is:

I didn’t take pictures during the event, because I preferred to pay attention to everything that was happening, but I did snap a couple quick shots as the smoke cleared. I jokingly posted this on instagram + twitter with the caption, “It’s nice to see the “Lost” Smoke Monster gainfully employed again.”

Unfortunately, that gave some of my followers the impression that I wasn’t impressed.

Although the final result wasn’t quite as “inky” as I imagined it to be, I rather enjoyed the spectacle. The anticipation, the interested crowd, the press, the fact that they actually got permission to blow some shit up on the Mall – these were all cool to me.

As a bonus, the whole thing was executed so that the tree wouldn’t be damaged and they’ll be replanting it somewhere to live out it’s days in non-exploding peace.

Oh, hey! The State Department website has a page titled, Pyrotechnic Event.

Their video is from the Freer side, so you can see the explosions as well as the large crowd gathered back behind the barricades on the Mall, which I think sets the scene a bit better than the Post’s video.

Video streaming by Ustream

Sharing is caring!