A pyrotechnic artwork presented as part of UChicago’s commemoration of first nuclear reaction

December 2, 2017

The University of Chicago, Regenstein Library

From 3:20 to 3:25 p.m. on Saturday, Dec, 2, 2017, the University of Chicago commemorated the 75th anniversary of the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction with the tolling of bells and a large-scale, multicolored pyrotechnic artwork by artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The ephemeral, site-specific work rose approximately 75 meters (246 feet) in the air above the roof of Regenstein Library adjacent to the site of the Chicago Pile-1 experiment led by Enrico Fermi, which ushered in the Nuclear Age at 3:25 p.m. on Dec. 2, 1942 as part of the Manhattan Project.

The pyrotechnic piece was part of the University’s extended series of events and discussions marking the 75th anniversary, “Nuclear Reactions—1942: A Historic Breakthrough, An Uncertain Future.”

Cai Guo Qiang (b. 1957, Quanzhou, China; lives in New York), 
Color Mushroom Cloud
December 2 2017, 3:25pm CST
Color comets and PixelBurst™ Aerial shells
75 meters tall 
Realized above the former CP-1 site, University of Chicago 


About Cai Guo-Qiang

Born in Quanzhou City, China, in 1957, Cai Guo-Qiang is one of the most influential and innovative artists working today. Cai’s accolades include the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999 and the Hiroshima Art Prize in 2007. In 2012, he was honored as a laureate for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts in Painting by the prestigious Praemium Imperiale and in the same year was awarded the Medal of Arts from the U.S. Department of State. He is the 2015 Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation Award recipient. An exhibition of his paintings recently opened at Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain—the second solo exhibition dedicated to a living artist since the museum’s founding in 1819. He currently lives and works in New York. 

This work was a commission of UChicago Arts and the Smart Museum of Art and was organized by Laura Steward, curator of public art at the Smart Museum of Art, with the support and involvement of UChicago faculty.



Pyrotechnic artwork at the University of Chicago commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first nuclear reaction.

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