Smart Museum of Art and Wrightwood 659 Present "The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China"

  • CHICAGO, Illinois
  • /
  • December 19, 2019

  • Email
gu wenda, united nations: american code, 2019, Human and synthetic hair. Courtesy of the artist, Commissioned by the Smart Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, and Peabody Essex Museum for the exhibition, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China.

From gunpowder to human hair, and silk to cigarettes, the materiality of contemporary art from China will be on view in Chicago in The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China. Organized by the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art along with Wrightwood 659, a Tadao Ando-designed art space, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China (February 7–May 3, 2020) features 48 two- and three-dimensional works made from a range of unique and humble materials, including melted plastic, desiccated Coca-Cola ash, and 300,000 iron nails. The works, many monumental in scale, explore how conscious material choice has become a means of expression for a number of leading Chinese contemporary artists working over the last four decades. The artists in the exhibition range from those in the early stages of their career, including He Xiangyu, Hu Xiaoyuan, and Ma Qiusha, to such internationally celebrated practitioners as Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Lin Tianmiao, Xu Bing, and Yin Xiuzhen.


The Allure of Matter has been co-curated by Professor 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.


Professor Wu states, “The Allure of Matter brings to the fore an incredible roster of artists who have developed intensely personal connections with unconventional materials. Taken together, the works introduce a broader framework for understanding global contemporary art that includes what I call 'Material Art' or caizhi yishu, where material—rather than image or style—is the paramount vehicle of aesthetic, political, and emotional expression.”


Dr. Cacchione adds, “Through their under recognized experimentations and often overlooked use of unconventional materials, the artists featured in The Allure of Matter have broken away from past art practices and styles. Their multi-faceted, monumental works inspire us to ask big questions about both our relationship to the everyday material world around us and the interrelationship between Chinese art and broader trends in contemporary art globally.”


Jim McDonough, Executive Director of Alphawood Foundation Chicago, notes, “Thanks to an extraordinary partnership between Wrightwood 659 and the Smart Museum, the largest exhibition of ‘Material Art’ ever mounted will be on view in Chicago. Alphawood Foundation is very proud to sponsor Wu Hung’s remarkable exhibition, which presents an entirely new genre of fine art as practiced by some of the most prominent Chinese artists working today.”


This presentation of The Allure of Matter (which expands upon the version that premiered in spring 2019 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) occupies the full gallery footprint of both institutions. Featuring 48 works that are complementary in form, material, and visual effect, the exhibition is divided into two unique halves, with 26 works by 16 artists at the Smart Museum, and 23 works by 14 artists at Wrightwood 659 (Zhan Wang’s video Beyond 12 Nautical Miles –Floating Rock Drifts on the Open Sea will be shown at both locations). 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.


Related Resources

Launching in full in early 2020, the exhibition’s companion website,, will provide a digital bridge between the exhibition’s two physical halves while offering supplementary content—including original interviews and behind-the-scenes videos and photos—revealing each artist’s working process and personal relationship with their material.


The Allure of Matter is accompanied by a self-titled catalogue, the first scholarly volume to examine Chinese art through the lens of materiality. The catalogue, published by the Smart Museum of Art and distributed by the University of Chicago Press, is written by co-curators Wu and Cacchione, with essays by Christine Mehring and Trevor Smith and additional entries by Susanna Ferrell, Wan Kong, Simone Levine, and Nancy P. Lin.


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.


Exhibition Tour
The Allure of Matter
is a nationally traveling exhibition, co-organized by the Smart Museum of Art with Wrightwood 659 and the exhibition tour venues: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (June 2, 2019–January 5, 2020), the Seattle Art Museum (June 25–September 13, 2020), and the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts (November 14, 2020–February 21, 2021).


The national tour is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.


About the Smart Museum of Art

First opened in 1974, the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago is a site for rigorous inquiry and exchange that encourages the examination of complex issues through the lens of art objects and artistic practice. Through strong community and scholarly partnerships, the Museum incorporates diverse ideas, identities, and experiences into its exhibitions and collections, academic initiatives, and public programming. Admission to the Smart Museum is always free.


The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago is located at 5550 S. Greenwood Avenue, Chicago. Museum hours are Tuesdays–Sundays, 10:00am–5:00pm; open until 8:00pm on Thursdays. For more information, please visit or call +1 773 702-0200.


About Wrightwood 659

Wrightwood 659, a private, non-collecting institution devoted to socially engaged art and to architecture, presents three public exhibitions annually. Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Wrightwood 659 was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, who transformed a 1920s building with his signature concrete forms and poetic treatment of natural light. In a city rich with art institutions and internationally known for its architecture, Wrightwood 659 is designed as a site for contemplative experiences of art and architecture, and as a place to engage with the pressing social issues of our time. All visits to Wrightwood 659 require a reservation. Tickets for The Allure of Matter are available online only, at During the exhibition, free general admission tickets will be released each Tuesday for the current week.


Wrightwood 659 is located at 659 W. Wrightwood Avenue, Chicago. Unless otherwise noted, it is open to the public Thursdays and Fridays, 12:00pm–8:00pm and Saturdays, 10:00am–7:00pm. For more information, please visit: or call +1 773 437-6601.

  • Email

Related Press Releases

ARTFIXdaily Artwire