Cai Guo-Qiang’s Next Big Art Project: Lighting Up Philadelphia

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Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Champs-Élysées of Philadelphia and the nexus of that city’s great museums, turns 100 this year. To celebrate, this fall the artist Cai Guo-Qiang will turn the boulevard into a nocturnal dreamscape with one of his largest public artworks in the United States.

“Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies,” commissioned by the Association for Public Art with Fung Collaboratives (led by the curator Lance Fung), is scheduled to open on Sept. 14 with a choreographed light and movement performance, and will remain on view through Oct. 8.

Mr. Cai’s ephemeral art is often made with fireworks and gunpowder — as was the case with his contribution to the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and in the 2012 work “Sky Ladder,” in his hometown, Quanzhou, China. For “Fireflies,” he has created a fleet of customized pedicabs — described as “part rickshaw and part kinetic sculpture” — to carry hundreds of colorful paper lanterns that will bob up and down the boulevard.

During the opening performance, the roughly 900 Chinese-inspired lanterns will create aerial drawings in the night sky. On subsequent evenings, the lights will be more improvisational as the pedicabs are open for public use along the parkway, which has the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture as its bookends and is lined with flags from around the world.

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