Unique Art Exhibit Debuts On University Of Chicago Campus

Lisa Fielding
March 02, 2020 - 2:25 pm
Simone Levine, Curatorial Research Assistant, Global Contemporary Art, Smart Museum of Art

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The Smart Museum of Art's latest exhibition has been 6 years in the making.

"We took down many walls for this exhibition to accommodate the shear size of the art works. You'll see the space is very different," said Simone Levine, Curatorial Research Assistant, Global Contemporary Art, Smart Museum of Art.

"The Allure of Matter: Material Art" from China features 48 pieces that are displayed between the Smart Museum and Wrightwood 659 in Lincoln Park.

"This exhibition focuses on the materials that Chinese artists have used and the importance of these materials in the art works," Levine said.

The art is made out of things like cigarettes, human hair, and human fat.

"This exhibition has many large scale art works that use unconventional materials. We have over 20 art works just in the Smart Museum. Some are so large, you can actually walk through them. A lot of them are made of materials that you wouldn't expect to see in a museum," Levine said.

The Allure of Matter: Material Art
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

The exhibit is so massive, it requires two Chicago spaces to exhibit.

"There is a tent that is made of human hair, further away, there's an installation that's made of books that were washed in the washing machine, there is a huge tiger skin rug made of 500,000 cigarettes, that's just here in the Smart," she said.

The other half of the exhibit is at Wrightwood 659 in Lincoln Park.

The Allure of Matter: Material Art
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"Between the two spaces, this is the largest art exhibition we've hosted in the museum's history. We have large scale art works at Wrightwood 659. There's more women artists there. There's one work that uses old doors and wooden frames from dismantled house and it's kind of a gothic looking tower located right in the atrium as you walk in," Levine said.

Since the 1980s, artists working in China have experimented with various materials, transforming seemingly everyday objects into large-scale artworks.

"A lot of materials have been reused here, have been collected by the artists, others have been radically transformed. It's amazing to hear about the artists processes that they've undergone several years of experimentation just to be able to refine these materials," she said.

The Allure of Matter: Material Art
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

The two- and three-dimensional works made from a range of unique materials, like melted plastic, paper-thin porcelain, desiccated Coca-Cola ash, and 300,000 iron nails.

A tower of human fat is also displayed in the Smart Museum.

"The human fat has undergone quite a bit of transformation. It's been purified, and rendered as wax. The fat originally comes from people's bodies, taken from liposuction clinics. The reason the artists have made it into a pillar is they want to confront us with these material that we think is very undesirable, people want to take out of their bodies. Once you know about the material it becomes quite an arresting experience," Levine said.

The Allure of Matter: Material Art
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

The works explore how conscious material choice has become a symbol of expression for a number of leading Chinese contemporary artists working over the last four decades.

"The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China" will be on display at the Smart Museum of Art and at Wrightwood 659 through May 3.

"This exhibition puts the Smart on the map nationally. If there's any time to visit us, it's now," Levine said.