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Several hundred viewers—and probably a few dozen unknowing workers at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services across the street—are all asking themselves right now: What the hell was that?

Well, the “that” in question was an explosion on the National Mall, one triggered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s museum of Asian art. The explosion was the work of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, whose medium is fireworks and Chevrolet Metros. Not to be outdone by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden when it comes to spectacle, the Sackler brought Cai out to explode a pine tree.

Sure, why not.

But all told, it was a modest affair. The pine tree was not harmed, and while the explosion was likely loud enough for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to hear it from her office, it probably didn’t prompt Arlington residents to call in a terrorist attack, the way that they did in response to the Cai piece for the Kennedy Center back in 2005. In fact, this Cai event had the right mix of serene and snark, much like one of his best works, 2005’s Black Rainbow. The not-titled, commissioned cloud of smoke for the Sackler looks like a Chinese brush painting on my Instagram; the explosions, of course, read like the lighting of the National Christmas Tree that will take place a few blocks away on Dec. 6.

More fireworks than artwork, the event was suitable enough for a Sackler birthday party. Consider it a celebration of sorts for Cai Guo-Qiang, too: The artist was in Washington to receive the first-ever U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts award, which was bestowed upon him by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier today.

The biggest winner was not the Sackler or the State Department or Cai Guo-Qiang, but Twitter.

And finally, an art-critical take.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery