The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China

Opening: Saturday, Feb 8, 2020 3 – 7 pm
Friday, Feb 7 – Aug 9, 2020

659 W. Wrightwood
Chicago, IL 60614

Summer 2020 update – Take a virtual tour of Wrightwood 659:

Take a virtual visit to The Allure of Matter at Wrightwood 659 and see work by Shi Hui, Liu Jianhua, Zhu Jinshi, and others set against architect Tadao Ando’s soaring spaces and concrete forms. Explore the works and installations through a video tour led by co-curators Wu Hung and Orianna Cacchione and new interactive gallery maps on

Throughout summer 2020, the site will continue to be updated with digital content that builds upon the full exhibition, including an upcoming virtual tour of the Smart Museum, object chats, at-home activities, online programs, and behind-the-scenes videos and photos.

Take a virtual tour


From gunpowder to human hair, and silk to cigarettes, the materiality of contemporary art from China will be on display in two iconic Chicago neighborhoods this winter. Organized by the Smart Museum of Art in Hyde Park along with Wrightwood 659 in Lincoln Park, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China (extended through August 9, 2020) features 45 two- and three-dimensional works made from a range of unique and humble materials, like melted plastic, paper-thin porcelain, desiccated Coca-Cola ash, and 300,000 iron nails. The 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 artist roster includes Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Xu Bing, Yin Xiuzhen, Song Dong, gu wenda, and Lin Tianmiao.

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 University of Chicago professor Wu Hung.

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, 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 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.

“Through their under-studied 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 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,” added Orianna Cacchione, exhibition co-curator and Smart Museum Curator of Global Contemporary Art.

“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, The Allure of Matter, which presents an entirely new genre of fine art—Material Art—as practiced by the most prominent Chinese artists working today. Alphawood hopes this imaginative exhibition, which is presented across the city from south to north, will also provide an opportunity for all visitors to learn more about Chicago and its cultural treasures,” said Jim McDonough, Executive Director of Alphawood Foundation Chicago.

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. Notably, this presentation of The Allure of Matter expands upon the version debuted in spring 2019 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with nine additional works being shown only in Chicago.


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.


Image: Xu Bing, 1st Class, 2011, Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Art © Xu Bing Studio. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.