‘Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang’ Examines a Different Kind of Artist

GameStop, Inc.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

Except for those deeply invested in the art world, the name Cai Guo-Qiang isn’t a household name. Over the years, though, Cai Guo-Qiang has made his name in the art world through his wild and artistic expressions using fireworks, though he did initially start as a painter. The life and art of Guo-Qiang is the subject of the new Netflix documentary from director Kevin Macdonald, Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, which also follows the artist as he embarks on another attempt to realize his dream, a massive ladder reaching to the heavens as fireworks cascade off the rungs of the ladder. It’s a fascinating documentary that challenges preconceived notions about art as well as the constraints of being a working artist under the Communist government of China.

Most documentaries that explore the life of an artist come across as fairly stale. The camera slowly pans across a painting while a talking head explains the art’s resonance is the standard formula. However, the art of Cai Guo-Qiang is made for the cinematic medium, with colorful fireworks slowly filling the sky with vibrant colors. I know this may sound unpatriotic, but I rarely find fireworks that interesting anymore. I mean, how much new can you do with sulfur and gunpowder firing off into the night sky? Well, the first display of visual brilliance contained within Sky Ladder proves that Cai Guo-Qiang has devised new and exciting ways that enrich the fireworks experience as well as a form of socially conscious environmentalism. The fireworks explode in their dazzling synchronicity, containing biodegradable powder that gives the explosions an artistic resonance, a trail of smoke that transcends into vibrant color.

The film traces back to Guo-Qiang’s youth growing up under the reign of Mao Tse-tung. Guo-Qiang’s father was himself and artist, working in Chinese calligraphy until his trade was deemed unnecessary by Mao’s “permanent revolution,” that deemed aspects of the old ways obsolete and in need of destruction. After that, his father worked at a bookstore, opting to use his pay to purchase book instead of family necessities; seeing books as the means with which his children will earn their fortune despite the protests of Guo-Qiang’s grandmother. After Mao’s death, there was a sense of new freedom in China, and Guo-Qiang used that freedom to explore himself as an artist and expand his art beyond simply oil paints on a canvas. Therein is where Cai Guo-Qiang became the celebrated artist he is today.

Sky Ladder doesn’t focus merely on all the triumphs of Cai Guo-Qiang’s work within the art world. It’s also critical of the work he’s done for Chinese government, including the massive opening ceremonies of the Bejing Olympics in 2012. Critics of this decision are given their say as is Guo-Qiang to defend his work for the government. Where this part of the film become most interesting is as Macdonald and his crew follow Gio-Qiang as he tries to orchestrate a daring new form of display for the Chinese government ahead of an economic summit attended by world leaders and dignitaries, including Vladmir Putin and Barack Obama. The bureaucrats of the government stifle Guo-Qiang at every available opportunity, making the artist apoplectic at their unwillingness to take risks. This is a dreamer, an artist and his expansive visions are met with nothing but resistance, and seems to almost entirely crush any trust he had in them before this encounter.

More than anything, the film is the struggle for Cai Guo-Qiang to construct his dream, the eponymous Sky Ladder. For the artist, it’s a vision that transcends nations and is about reaching into the stratosphere. As with many dreamers, his vision exceeds what’s humanly possible. For decades, Cai Guo-Qiang has tried in vain to make this a reality, enlisting numerous aides to help with the logistics and yet still nothing to show for it. Despite the seemingly never-ending struggle, Sky Ladder concludes with what the title promises, and the artist is even able to show his grandmother the majestic events over video chat. It’s another example of how the film’s subject makes for visually awe-inspiring moments of artistry, one that transcends canvas and paint as well as amazingly cinematic.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang is a sharp portrait of an artist who dreams beyond the possible, willing to push himself and the world of art beyond the rigid confines of galleries. Kevin Macdonald’s film is part biography and part examination of the artistic process, yet is always compelling as its subject dares to dream bigger than his contemporaries. It’s also a portrait of a man who is deeply invested in his family. Guo-Qiang is determined to get the Sky Ladder into the air so his 100-year-old grandmother can see it, and he does just that. A month after Sky Ladder ascended, Guo Qiang’s grandmother passed away and the film is dedicated to her. The artistry on display in Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and definitely not the kind of art you could catch in any art district throughout the world.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang
  • Overall Score


A fascinating look at a different kind of artist, Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang examines the life of the unique artist as well as follow him as tries to realize his dream work.

Anytime Costumes

Leave a Reply

Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
Disney’s ‘Young Woman and the Sea’ is a Triumph of Will – Review

Disney’s ‘Young Woman and the Sea‘ is a Triumph of Will...

‘Skywalkers’ Takes Love to New Heights on Netflix – Spoiler Free Review

‘Skywalkers: A Love Story‘ Takes Love to New Heights while Scaling...

‘Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths – Part Three’ – Leaves us Wanting More! – Spoiler Free Review

‘Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths – Part Three‘ is a...

Event News Event Reviews
‘Sweat’ Heats Things Up at the Long Beach Playhouse – Review

‘Sweat‘ delivers a powerful theatrical experience that resonates long after the...

The ‘California Dreams’ Band Reunite on The Sunset Strip For a Night of 90s Nostalgia – Concert Review

Don’t Wake Me Up if I’m Dreaming, The ‘California Dreams‘ Band...

Jay Anthony Franke Talks California Dreams Reunion Concert in LA – Interview

Jay Anthony Franke Talks About The ‘California Dreams‘ Reunion Concert in...

Automotives Football MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
Derek Gumin Talks Planet 13 and UFC 303 Meet and Greets – Interview

Director of Wholesale Accounts at Planet 13, Derek Gumin spoke about...

Oscar De La Hoya Partners with El Rey for ‘Friday Night Fights’ – Interview

The Golden Boy himself chatted with us about Golden Boy Promotions...

Olympic Runner Colleen Quigley ‘On The Road to Paris’

Team USA Olympic Runner, Colleen Quigley is On The Road to...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?
Fantoy Comics Presents: Harry Potter and the Pahrump Apocalypse – Blood on the Cactus, nearing the end of the 3rd act.

What IS that big dust cloud on the horizon?

Fantoy Comics Presents: Harry Potter and the Pahrump Apocalypse – Blood on the Cactus, Endgame


Fantoy Comics Presents: A 4th of July Message!

Seriously, America, THIS crap?!?!?

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Joe Kwaczala Talks About His new Comedy Album ‘Funny Songs & Sketches’ – Interview

Joe Kwaczala Talks About His new Comedy Album ‘Funny Songs &...

Songwriter and Poet, Tamara Mechael Talks About Her Career in the Arts

First Generation Assyrian-Chaldean, Songwriter and Poet, Tamara Mechael Talks About Her...

Louden Swain Headlining Los Angeles Show at The Echo

Press Release – Louden Swain are headlining Los Angeles show at...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League
Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League Gameplay Trailer

The first Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League gameplay trailer was revealed during...

Wonder Woman Game
Wonder Woman Game Announced By DC and WB Games

Wonder Woman game will feature the iconic hero in a 3rd...

MultiVersus brings Batman, Arya Stark, Bugs Bunny, and More

MultiVersus is bringing Shaggy, Harley Quinn, Jake, Batman, Arya Stark, Bugs Bunny,...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
Michael Hirsh Made Gen X Citizens Via his ‘Animation Nation’ – Interview

Legendary Animator, Michael Hirsh goes from Immigrant to Emperor in his...

Billy Eddy Talks His new Book ‘Our New World of Adult Bullies’ – Interview

Lawyer, Mediator and Personality Expert Bill Eddy Provides a Six-Step Strategy...

Gary Morgenstein Talks ‘A Dugout to Peace’ the Final Installment of his Trilogy

Gary Morgenstein Talks About ‘A Dugout to Peace‘ the final installment...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand Demo

The new ‘Harry Potter: Magic Caster Wand‘ is ready to ship...

Chef Jen Peters and Matthew Clayton Bring us the ‘Good Flour’

Canadian Super Chef Jen Peters and Matthew Clayton Bring us the...

Pop Insider 2021 Holiday Gift Guide
Pop Insider 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

The Pop Insider 2021 Holiday Gift Guide is now available to help...

Gaming Uncensored Toon-In-Talk
Episode 38: Hamid Rahmanian

Join Whitney Grace as she speaks with artist Hamid Rahmanian, who...

No Preview
Toon-In Talk Episode 37: Niki Smith

Whitney Grace interviews graphic novel writer and artist Niki Smith about...

Toon-In Talk Episode 36: Rob Paulsen

Rob Paulsen takes some time from his busy voice acting schedule...