press release

The Allure of Matter
Material Art from China
February 7–May 3, 2020

From gunpowder to human hair, and silk to cigarettes, the materiality of contemporary art from China will be on display in Chicago in spring 2020.

Organized by the Smart Museum of Art with Wrightwood 659, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China (February 7–May 3, 2020) features two- and three-dimensional works made from a range of unique and humble materials, like melted plastic, paper-thin porcelain, desiccated Coca-Cola, and 300,000 iron nails. These works, many monumental in scale, explore how conscious material choice has become a symbol of expression for a number of leading Chinese contemporary artists working over the last four decades.

The exhibition's opening week is highlighted by a symposium featuring presentations on materiality from scholars and artists, February 6–8, 2020 at the University of Chicago's Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, and a free public celebration from 3–7 pm on Saturday, February 8, 2020, happening simultaneousely at the Smart Museum of Art and Wrightwood 659.

The Allure of Matter is the first exhibition partnership between the Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659. Too large for a single venue, the exhibition takes up the full gallery footprint of both institutions. It opens twenty years after the Smart Museum's first contemporary Chinese art project with exhibition co-curator and UChicago professor Wu Hung. The Allure of Matter showcases 45 works which are complementary in form, material, and visual effect. It is divided into two unique halves at the Smart Museum (24 works by 16 artists) and Wrightwood 659 (21 works by 14 artists). To fully experience the exhibition, guests are encouraged to visit both locations.

The Allure of Matter features work by Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Chen Zhen, Gu Dexin, gu wenda, He Xiangyu, Hu Xiaoyuan, Huang Yong Ping, Jin Shan, Liang Shaoji, Lin Tianmiao, Liu Jianhua, Liu Wei, Ma Qiusha, Shi Hui, Song Dong, Sui Jianguo, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Wang Jin, Xu Bing, Yin Xiuzhen, Zhan Wang, Zhang Huan, Zhang Yu, and Zhu Jinshi.

The Allure of Matter is co-organized by the Smart Museum of Art with Wrightwood 659 and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibition is curated by Wu Hung, Smart Museum Adjunct Curator, Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History, and Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia at the University of Chicago, with Orianna Cacchione, Smart Museum Curator of Global Contemporary Art.

The Smart Museum’s presentation of The Allure of Matter is made possible by support from Alphawood Foundation Chicago. Support for the exhibition and its catalogue has been provided by principal sponsors the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and by Lorna Ferguson and Terry Clark. Additional support has been provided by the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation and the Museum’s SmartPartners.

Following its debut at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (June 2, 2019–January 5, 2020) and this Chicago engagement, a national tour of The Allure of Matter continues at Seattle Art Museum (June 25–September 7, 2020) and the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts (November 14, 2020–February 21, 2021). The national tour of this exhibition is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.