GU WENDAunited nations: american code, 2018–19, Human hair, 459 × 701 × 854 cm. Installation view of “The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China” at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2019–20. Courtesy the artist and LACMA

The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China

There was a lofty goal behind “The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Positioning the exhibition’s works by 21 artists as their examples, co-curators Wu Hung and Orianna Cacchione attempted to coin the phrase “Material Art,” or caizhi yishu, with the hopes that it would enter the art historical lexicon as a new lens through which to understand contemporary Chinese art against a global (or perhaps more specifically, Western) landscape. According to Wu’s accompanying catalog essay, the term Material Art more aptly describes the practices of artists who gravitate toward specific materials, but who have been wrongly and awkwardly categorized under Western art labels such as “Conceptual Art, assemblage, readymades or object-based art.” In Wu’s estimation, these artists rely on materials to convey socio-political or personal messages. 

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