Japanese artist Taro Okamoto once said, "Art is an explosion." This was despite the fact that his own works were carefully planned and developed, as the exhibition "Taro Okamoto's Paintings: From Impulse to Realization" at the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art made clear back in 2006. Okamoto's famous dictum, however, literally applies to the New-York-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who is famous for using gunpowder explosions to distribute colors and other effects across his expansive canvases.
Once based in Japan, Cai has an impressive new solo show at the Yokohama Museum of Art, titled "Cai Guo-Qiang: There and Back Again," which includes "Nighttime Sakura" (2015), the largest gunpowder work he has ever done, measuring an almighty 8 × 24 meters, which dominates the museum's entrance hall.
The size of this work and the sense of occasion and energy created by Cai's use of gunpowder to achieve "abstract expressionist" patterns and smoky textures is impressive. But once you mentally subtract those elements, you are left with a painting of a rather comical-looking owl, peering down at you from among some cherry blossom branches, and the suspicion that Cai may be more expert at gimmickry than artistry.