The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China

February 7, 2020 to May 3, 2020
Opening Reception: Saturday, February 8, 3–7 pm
Co-presented at the Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659

Since the 1980s, Chinese contemporary artists have cultivated intimate relationships with their materials, establishing a framework of interpretation revolving around materiality. Their media range from the commonplace to the unconventional, the natural to the synthetic, the elemental to the composite: from plastic, water, and wood, to hair, gunpowder, and Coca-Cola.

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 brings together works from the past four decades in which conscious material choice has become a symbol of the artists’ expression, representing this unique trend throughout recent history. 

The exhibition features 45 monumental works that are complementary in form, material, and visual effect. 


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.

Chicago presentation

In Chicago, the exhibition is co-presented at the Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659

National tour


The exhibition is accompanied by the first scholarly volume to examine Chinese art through the lens of materiality. The book features full color reproductions of all the works in the exhibition, artist profiles, and new essays that draw connections between Chinese art and the role of materials in global histories of art and contemporary practice. Available summer 2019. Published by the Smart Museum of Art and distributed by the University of Chicago Press. 

Order the book

Top: Zhu Jinshi, Wave of Materials, 2007, Xuan paper, cotton thread, bamboo, and stones. Installation view, Tokyo Gallery, Beijing, 2007. Gift of Zhu Jinshi and Pearl Lam Galleries in honor of Wu Hung, jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.

Above: Chen Zhen, Crystal Landscape of the Inner Body, 2000, Crystal, glass, and metal. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.