The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China

Friday, Jul 24 – Aug 9, 2020

The University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood
Chicago, IL 60637

Visit the project website


Since the 1980s, artists working in China have experimented with various materials, transforming seemingly everyday objects into large-scale artworks. These artists have exploded fireworks into paintings, felted hair into gleaming flags, stretched pantyhose into monochromatic paintings, deconstructed old doors and windows to make sculptures, and even skillfully molded porcelain into gleaming black flames.

Artists continue to explore and develop this creative mode, with some devoting decades of their practice to experiments with a single material. For the first time, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China brings together works in which conscious material choice has become a means of the artists’ expression, representing this unique trend throughout recent history. The exhibition features 48 two- and three-dimensional works made from a range of unique and humble materials. 



In its original Chicago presentation, scheduled for February 7–May 3, 2020 but closed on March 14, 2020 due to COVID-19, the exhibition was divided into two halves, taking up the entire footprints of the Smart Museum of Art on the South Side and Wrightwood 659 on the North Side. The consolidated presentation at the Smart Museum in summer 2020 features a handful of works originally shown at Wrightwood 659. 



The companion website offers a wealth of digital content that builds upon the exhibition—including virtual tours, original interviews, at-home activities, online programs, and behind-the-scenes videos and photos.



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.