The Allure of Matter: Material Art From China
Traveling Down the River
Traveling Down the River
Exhibition Dates: 2020.02.07~2020.08.02
Exhibition Location: Smart Museum of Art, Chicago
Exhibited Works: Tobacco Project — 1st Class, Traveling Down the River, Tobacco Book, and sketches.
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. The Allure of Matter coins the term “material art” to denote this trend in contemporary Chinese artmaking.
The concept of Material Art is related not only to the general term “materiality” incontemporary art, but also refers more specifically to artworks with the goal ofmaking “matter” the primary vehicle of philosophical, political, sociological,emotional, and aesthetic expression. Some of these works reject constructed forms altogether, but most reverse or problematize the conventional relationship between medium and representation. In either case the material (and related technology) becomes the message. The conditions of contemporary Chinese art offer reasons for the prevalence of Material Art and its continuous relevance, which has been developed to fulfill two simultaneous objectives of disavowing established art forms and inventing new artistic languages.
The Allure of Matter features 35 works from 21 of the most important and influential Chinese artists working today, including Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Lin Tianmiao, Song Dong, Xu Bing, Yin Xiuzhen, Zhan Wang, Zhang Huan, and more. The works are selected based on their historical importance, representativeness, and visual quality. Created from the late-1980s to the present day, the works include two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and new media works that are complementary in form, material, and visual effect.
Xu Bing's Tobacco Project, a personal and historic multi-part exploration of tobacco. Four elements of this work are featured in the exhibition: Tobacco Book (2011), Traveling Down the River (2004), a series of sketches (all completed between 1999 and 2000), and a larger-than-life tiger skin carpet made entirely of cigarettes, 1st Class (1999–2011). The project stems from a residency Xu undertook at Duke University in 2000, where he took interest in the history of the Duke family, who made much of their fortune manufacturing and marketing cigarettes in the late 19th century. During this residency, Xu learned about all aspects of tobacco production, from historical to contemporary, and began this series of works made of and about the tobacco trade. The artist took a particular interest in the introduction of American tobacco businesses in China in the late 19th century, and their lasting effect on his home country, both socially and economically.
Photo courtesy of the Smart Museum of Art.