Any good exhibition of contemporary art that presents cultural developments abroad is a welcome and important way to better understand our allies and adversaries. The ambitious traveling exhibition that opened last month at LACMA, Allure of Matter: Material Art from China, is an excellent example of artistic and cultural collaboration at a time of an ongoing trade war between the US and China.
An article from ARTnews quotes Pace Gallery’s founder Arne Glimcher as saying, “It’s impossible to do business in mainland China right now… the last straw is Trump’s duty on Chinese art coming into this country and Xi Jinping’s duty on American art coming into China.”
As a result, when I went to see this exhibition, I was surprised and challenged by the diversity of artworks and their dramatic presentation. The exhibition covers the last 40 years of Chinese contemporary art and focuses on a group of the most influential Chinese artists today – among them, Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang.
The artists in the exhibition use rather wide range of materials in their practices – from wood to plastic, water, hair, tobacco, and Coca-Cola. A monumental bowl-shaped wood sculpture by Ai Weiwei, Divine Proportion, references both Leonardo Da Vinci’s illustrations and, believe it or not, cat toys. In a gallery with a four-channel video by Song Dong, we see the artist using a brush dipped in water to make marks on stone which slowly evaporate. In the same gallery, we are invited to dip our fingers into liquid and make our own marks onto a metal column and watch them disappear.
A large mixed-media diptych by Ma Qiusha is titled Wonderland: Black Square, and a wonder it is. The first impression when you put your nose to the surface is that it’s composed of shimmering brushstrokes from silver to deep black. But, once you read the label for the artwork, you understand that the main material is dark nylon stockings stretched over cement shards.
I spent most of my time in a gallery with 8000 black porcelain sculptures on the floor. The artist Liu Jianhua calls this installation Black Flame, and if you take a look at the photo on our website, you can see how this black flame spreads over the floor. Somehow, I interpreted it not as danger, but as imagination expanding without any limitations. On a gray wall in the same gallery hang three rectangular objects appearing to be white paper. But, come close and you will be astonished to realize they are actually thin white porcelain wall sculptures.
Entering a house built by gu wenda, I found myself surrounded by different cultures. The title of this immense installation is united nations: american code, and it’s made from human hair, collected from all over the world. This artwork emanates a sense of harmony among different cultures, and reminds us that the US is a “nation of immigrants and mixed ethnic identities” (LACMA).