Last February, a spectacular pyrotechnic performance, staged by Cai Guo-Qiang in the ancient remnants of Pompeii’s Roman amphitheater, reignited the tragic and vital dynamics of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in a timeless, poetic journey that tells the story of the destruction and rebirth of Pompeii. The event took place a day before the artist's solo show IN THE VOLCANO. Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii, curated by Jérôme Neutres, opened at National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Canvases and objects excavated from the explosion event in Pompeii are placed within the many permanent collection galleries, along with gunpowder paintings created in New York. The exploded 32-meter long canvas, stretching out among the arches and vaults in the Farnese Sculpture Hall like a ceiling fresco, displays variegated images of the exploded paintings and objects and reflects the entirety of the exhibition. In addition to the masterpieces of ancient statuary—copies of the Farnese Hercules and the Venere Callipigia—reinterpreted by Cai through the colors of gunpowder, vases and terracotta objects are displayed on simple platforms, evoking the everyday life of the Ancient Romans. A boat, anchored to the wall and placed alongside the frescoes of Pompeii, discloses the timeless secret of an ongoing artistic journey. The evanescent traces of gunpowder on canvas evoke references to the figures of classical iconography, just as the presence of the extraordinary installations in the various rooms invite reflection on the continuity between past and present.