26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

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CHICAGO—Containing a massive paper wave, a tower of leftover fat, and a tiger-skin rug of 500,000 cigarettes, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China encompasses 48 works from 26 contemporary Chinese artists in an exhibition on view now in Chicago. Focused on the materiality of seemingly every day objects, the exhibition prompted artists to explore how substances like tobacco, plastics, and Coca-Cola could be fashioned anew. “Taken together, the works introduce a broader framework for understanding global contemporary art, which I call ‘Material Art’ or caizhi yishu, where material—rather than image or style—is the paramount vehicle of aesthetic, political, and emotional expression,” said co-curator Wu Hung.

The Allure of Matter is an extension of a trend artists in China began in the 1980s as they experimented and “exploded fireworks into paintings, felted hair into gleaming flags, stretched pantyhose into monochromatic artworks, deconstructed old doors and windows to make sculptures, and even skillfully molded porcelain into gleaming black flames,” a statement about the exhibition says.

Today, artists involved in the project, like Ai WeiweiHu Xiaoyuan, and Cai Guo-Qiang, are engaging with that provocative tradition through their multi-media works that often fill entire rooms, like gu wenda‘s human hair structure that is suspended from the ceiling. “Their monumental works represent a multifaceted phenomenon that inspires us to ask big questions about our relationship to the everyday material world around us as well as the interrelationship between Chinese art and broader trends in contemporary art globally,” co-curator Orianna Cacchione said.

If you’re in Chicago, make sure to check out the exhibition at both the Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659 before it closes on May 3.

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

gu wenda, “united nations: american code” (2019), human and synthetic hair. Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, image © Museum Associates/LACMA

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Ai Weiwei, “Tables at Right Angles” (1998), Tables from the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Stockamp Tsai Collection, New York

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Liu Jianhua, “Black Flame” (2017), 8,000 flame-shaped black porcelain pieces. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Pace Gallery. Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, image © Museum Associates/LACMA

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Gu Dexin, “Untitled” (1989), melted and adjoined plastic. Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, image © Museum Associates/LACMA

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Song Dong, “Water Records” (2010), four-channel video projection. “Traceless Stele” (2016), metal stele, water, brushes, and heating device. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Pace Gallery. Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, image © Museum Associates/LACMA

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Shi Hui, “Float” (2000/2007/2013), wire mesh and xuan paper pulp. Installation view at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Ma Qiusha, “Wonderland: Black Square” (2016), cement, nylon stocking, plywood, resin, iron

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Xu Bing, “1st Class” (2011), 500,000 “1st Class” brand cigarettes, spray adhesive, and carpet. Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, image © Museum Associates/LACMA

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Xu Bing, “1st Class” (2011), 500,000 “1st Class” brand cigarettes, spray adhesive, and carpet. Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, image © Museum Associates/LACMA

26 Contemporary Chinese Artists Explore Materiality in ‘Allure of Matter’

Liang Shaoji, “Chains: The Unbearable Lightness of Being” of Nature Series No.79 (2002–7), polyurethane, colophony, iron powder, silk, and cocoons. Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, image © Museum Associates/LACMA

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