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 Weiwei, Hu 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.