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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 artworks, deconstructed old doors and windows to make sculptures, and even skillfully molded porcelain into gleaming black flames.

gu wenda, united nations: american code, 1995–2019. Detail. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.

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.

Chicago Presentation

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 from July 24–August 9, 2020 featured a handful of works originally shown at Wrightwood 659.


The Allure of Matter is co-organized by the Smart Museum of Art with Wrightwood 659 and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Peabody Essex Museum.

The exhibition is curated by 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.

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 Smart Museum’s SmartPartners.

Alphawood Foundation Chicago

National Tour

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
June 2, 2019–January 5, 2020

Smart Museum of Art and Wrightwood 659
February 7–May 3, 2020; closed on March 14 due to COVID-19

Smart Museum of Art
July 24–August 9, 2020; reconfigured presentation

Seattle Art Museum
Scheduled for summer 2020; cancelled due to COVID-19

Peabody Essex Museum
Scheduled for autumn 2020; cancelled due to COVID-19

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

Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts