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Cai Guo-Qiang’s “25 Comets” Commemorates MASS MoCA’s 25th Anniversary

Artists and Guests Gather for MASS MoCA’s Anniversary, Featuring Cai Guo-Qiang’s Explosive Art

On May 24th, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala event that highlighted its legacy as a prominent space for contemporary art. The event honored the contributions of artists, collaborators, and the diverse communities that have supported the museum.

Approximately 500 guests, including artists, art enthusiasts, and community members from around the world, attended the gala. Notable figures such as MASS MoCA board chair Mariko Silver, artists Nick Cave and Ann Hamilton, current director Kristy Edmunds, state representative John Barrett III, and founding director Joseph Thompson gave speeches. The evening’s highlight was a surprise finale by artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who presented “25 Comets: Explosion Event for MASS MoCA’s 25th Anniversary,” featuring the sound of tolling bells and a symbolic gesture towards an unknown future.

Historical Background and Development of MASS MoCA

MASS MoCA, located in North Adams, Massachusetts, was the brainchild of Thomas Krens, former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The museum opened in 1999, transforming a cluster of 26 abandoned industrial buildings dating back to the mid-19th century into an extensive exhibition and performance space. This transformation was pioneering at the time, revitalizing the economically declining town and establishing it as a renowned art center.

The museum is known for commissioning site-specific, large-scale installations and exhibitions. It houses semi-permanent exhibitions by artists such as James Turrell, Sol LeWitt, and Anselm Kiefer. Over 500 artists have participated in its residency programs and technical workshops, contributing to a diverse array of artistic projects.

The 25th Anniversary Gala

Continuing its tradition of live artistic creations, the 25th anniversary gala featured performances and exhibits by seven artists. Highlights included a performance by jazz singer Martha Redbone, a projection work by Chris Doyle, and a specially designed trophy by Xu Bing, awarded to founding director Joseph Thompson.

Current director Kristy Edmunds emphasized the importance of artistic liberty and imagination in her speech. She highlighted the role of artists in expressing truth and dreaming the future forward.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Inopportune: Stage One, 2004. Installation view at MASS MoCA. Photo by Hiro Ihara

Commemorative Print Collection

The gala also announced the release of a 25th-anniversary commemorative print collection, featuring works by ten significant artists in MASS MoCA’s history, including Cai Guo-Qiang. This limited edition of 25 copies will benefit the museum’s development. Cai’s print is derived from a sketch for his 2004 solo exhibition “Illusion,” a multi-channel video installation depicting an exploding car in Times Square.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s 25 Comets

The evening concluded with Cai Guo-Qiang’s “25 Comets,” performed beneath MASS MoCA’s clocktower. Built in 1882, the clocktower’s chimes regulated the lives of town residents until falling silent in 1986. Artist Christina Kubisch revived the chimes for the museum’s opening in 1999, adding to the site’s historical significance.

Philanthropist Jack Wadsworth introduced Cai, highlighting his impact on the art world and his deep connection to MASS MoCA. Cai’s first solo exhibition in the U.S. was at MASS MoCA, and his career includes notable works like “I Want to Believe” at the Guggenheim Museum in 2008.

Cai-Guo-Qiang
Cai Guo-Qiang taking part in printmaking at the print shop at MASS MoCA. Photo by Ziyi Yang

Reflection by Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai reflected on his 2004 solo exhibition “Inopportune” at MASS MoCA, which addressed themes related to 9/11 and featured provocative installations. The exhibition marked a milestone in his career and the international art scene, realized with the support of the museum.

For the 25th anniversary, Cai expressed joy in returning to MASS MoCA with “25 Comets,” symbolizing the artists who have illuminated the museum’s history. He noted the significance of the Year of the Dragon, with the 25th comet representing a dragon ringing the bell, symbolizing 25 years of support for artists.

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