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TO APRIL 24, 2005

Those who like their art with a bang rather than a whimper can find just that at the Hirshhorn’s “Cai Guo-Qiang: Traveler” exhibition. Cai stages pyrotechnic happenings at such public venues as New York’s Central Park, London’s Tate Modern, and even the Great Wall of China; this show features proposals for events that didn’t quite work out—due to bad weather, limited money, or lack of safety permits. Using a variety of gunpowders, Cai rolls his own explosives, which he gingerly places on heavy hemp paper, anchors with stones, then ignites. The pressure of the rocks limits oxygen and thus generates a flash across the paper surface, leaving a scorched “drawing” of sorts. Cai’s time-consuming preparation for a momentary artistic event parallels that of a calligrapher, who carefully hones his skills in order to execute perfect brushwork with speed and spontaneity. A number of the works displayed resemble classical Chinese landscape paintings. In Movement Cultivates Vitality: Proposal for Expo 2005, Aichi, Japan (pictured), a long, curved line seared across a screen suggests a hill or a river, and a row of burns and pillowy smoke forms a horizon of trees. For some viewers, the exhibition’s accompanying video may prove more absorbing than the actual work: Cai is captured setting stuff on fire in his studio as assistants rush forth to snuff out the flames with rags. Carefully consider taking your flame-fixated preteens to the show, on view daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through Sunday, April 24, 2005 (see City List for details on the Sackler Gallery’s concurrent exhibition), at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 7th Street and Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 633-1000. (Hetty Lipscomb)