Smart Museum will host contemporary Chinese art exhibition, largest in institutional history

Xu Bing, 1st Class, 2011, Installation view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibit is created from cigarettes. Art © Xu Bing Studio. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.


All galleries at the Smart Museum of Art are closed in preparation for “The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China,” a joint exhibition of 45 contemporary works that opens in conjunction with the Wrightwood 659 gallery in Lincoln Park on Feb. 7.

Works by Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Xu Bing and 23 other artists’ 2D and 3D works made out of gunpowder, human hair, silk, cigarettes, melted plastic, porcelain, desiccated Coca-Cola ash and 300,000 iron nails explore material choice as a symbol of expression in Chinese art of the last 40 years.

It will be the largest exhibition in the history of the Smart Museum, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave., taking up the entire gallery footprints at both locations, with 24 works in Hyde Park and 21 works at Wrightwood 659, 659 W. Wrightwood Ave. University of Chicago art historian Wu Hung and the Smart’s Orianna Cacchione curated.

“‘The Allure of Matter’ brings to the fore an incredible roster of artists who have developed intensely personal connections with unconventional materials,” Hung said in a statement. “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.”

Cacchione said the artists’ “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.”

“The Allure of Matter” debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last June, will be in Chicago until May 3 and will move on to the Seattle Art Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Nine of the works in the exhibition will be displayed only in Chicago.

An opening reception is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 8, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.