U.S.-China Forum, exhibition to explore Chinese contemporary art

The Allure of Matter, co-curated by Prof. Wu Hung, to open after Feb. 6 UChicago symposium

The University of Chicago will convene artists and scholars from around the world on Feb. 6 for the U.S.-China Forum, a one-day symposium that will examine how the countries intersect, interact and overlap through the arts.

Held at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, the public event will feature performances, lectures and in-depth conversations between distinguished UChicago scholars and renowned artists such as Xu Bing and Miao Ying. The closing keynote address will be delivered by Prof. Wu Hung, a leading authority on Chinese art.

“We are thrilled to bring together this particular group of artists and university faculty who—singly and together—are generating new ways of understanding art and its relationship to our world,” said David Levin, Senior Advisor to the Provost for Arts. “The U.S.-China Forum will introduce audiences to a broad range of topics from re-imagining the sound and bustle of contemporary life, to rethinking our relationship to the internet, to reflecting upon the role of language in our lives. It promises to be an enormously stimulating day.”

This fifth annual forum is organized by UChicago Global and UChicago Arts in collaboration with the Smart Museum of Art, and sponsored by the China-United States Exchange Foundation.

It also will preface a groundbreaking exhibition on the materiality of contemporary art from China. Too large for a single venue, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China will take up the full gallery footprint of UChicago’s Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659 in Lincoln Park. Showcasing 48 pieces of contemporary art from Feb. 7 to May 3, the exhibition was conceived and co-curated by Wu, who coined the term that unifies the work of artists spanning four decades.

“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 Wu, the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History.

‘An incredible roster of artists’

Featuring everything from gunpowder to human hair, silk to cigarettes, and melted plastic to paper-thin porcelain, the works—many monumental in scale—explore how conscious material choice has become a symbol of expression for a number of leading Chinese contemporary artists. The roster includes Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Xu Bing, Yin Xiuzhen, Song Dong, gu wenda and Lin Tianmiao.

The Allure of Matter showcases works which are complementary in form, material and visual effect. It is divided into two unique halves at the Smart Museum (26 works by 16 artists) and Wrightwood 659 (23 works by 14 artists)—marking the first-ever partnership between the two institutions. To fully experience the exhibition, guests are encouraged to visit both locations.

The Allure of Matter comes two decades after Wu’s first contemporary Chinese art project at the Smart Museum, where he serves as an adjunct curator. In 1999, he launched Transcience, a groundbreaking exhibition which established a historical framework for modern Chinese artistic production.

He co-curated his latest exhibition with Orianna Cacchione, the Smart Museum’s curator of global contemporary art.

The Allure of Matter brings to the fore an incredible roster of artists who have developed intensely personal connections with unconventional materials,” said Wu, who also directs the Center for the Art of East Asia at UChicago.

Notably, this presentation of The Allure of Matter expands upon the version debuted last summer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with nine additional works being shown for the first time in Chicago. This will be the largest of four stops for the touring exhibition, which will also visit the Seattle Art Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts this year.

Save the dates

The Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659 will both open The Allure of Matter on Feb. 8 with a free public celebration from 3 to 7 p.m. The Smart will host gallery talks led by UChicago graduate students, while Wrightwood 659 will host “poetry on demand” events along with gallery talks. All events at Wrightwood 659 require free ticketed reservations.

Other programs scheduled at the Smart Museum include a Feb. 15 puppet-making family workshop inspired by Ma Qiusha’s “Black Square,” and a Feb. 20 educator workshop that explores the embedded history of materials, manipulation and adaptation, and working across cultures and disciplines.

On March 17, the Logan Center will host Sifu: An Evening of Cantonese Opera, presenting a collection of canonical stories through martial arts, acrobatics, acting, and singing, accompanied by traditional Chinese percussion. For ticket pricing and program detail, visit the Logan Center Box Office website.