They are some of the best known artists in China–but, most Americans have never heard of them. Now, a handful of museums in the U.S. are hoping to change that, through a new exhibit that opens Sunday in Los Angeles.
CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg got a sneak-peek look at the unique artwork on display.
The Allure of Matter showcases material art from China. Twenty-one artists will make their debut in the new exhibition. The artwork combines traditional textures like silk with more contemporary, industrial materials to offer commentary on China and the world.
Artist Zhang Huan painstakingly collected ash from incense burned at Buddhist temples to create a three-dimensional piece that looks like a culturally ironic photograph of Chinese farmers.
Another artist, Jin Shan, recreated the bust of a symbolic steel worker using wood salvaged from old Shanghai doors from homes torn down in China’s rush to modernization.
“We wanted to show the American people that the Chinese artists – all different kind – are mixed together for contemporary,” says Jin. “Chinese artists are thinking in different ways to understand our society, not just one type. So that’s what I’m thinking is important.”
Jin says he fears some of the nuance may be lost on an American audience because they don’t know much about China.
Stephen Little, curator of the exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is hoping to change that.
“It’s very important that Americans have a deep, or deeper understanding of China. And it is a very different culture. The Chinese look at the world in a very different way,” says Stephen. “But I think when you came face to face with China, or face to face with works like this, it’s the quickest way to learn.”
Stephen says many of the artists have spent time living and working in the U.S., and in some cases, that’s shaped their work.
Artist Xu Bing did his residency at Duke University in the U.S. state of North Carolina. He began to think about the Duke family connection to the tobacco industry and how American tobacco got to China. This connection is depicted in a tiger skin rug created from half a million cigarettes.
Other pieces on display are a tapestry and tent made from human hair collected from around the world over decades by artist Gu Wenda. The hair measures 30,000 kilometers in length. The piece is called ‘United Nations: American Code.’ It’s meant to represent a hope for a utopian immigrant society and a collection of cultures with the hair interwoven and braided.
“Artists are often visionaries that can see things that rest of us don’t see. And on many levels this show, it opens doors into the future. And I think LACMA has an important role in being a platform,” says Stephen.
Some of the pieces took weeks to put together, with teams flown in from China. The exhibit will spend half a year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, before it travels across the country.