Up in Smoke

January 17 - August 26, 2012
Wilbur Room

Smoke in various forms is a ubiquitous part of life around the world. It comes from numerous sources, such as pipes, fireplaces, factories, and infernos, and can convey a multitude of complex and contradictory meanings. For instance, images of cigarette smoke signal a leisure activity and convey the glamour of an earlier time, yet today call to mind the health hazards of such activity. When seen billowing out of factories, smoke can be a leitmotif representing industry and progress; and yet threats to the environment, public health, and quality of life often follow. When used in ritual, smoke can serve as an offering, a tangible symbol of the immaterial; it can connote transcendence into another state of being, or its plumes can indicate destruction.

These opposing themes abound in a selection of paintings, prints, and artifacts drawn from the Fleming Museum's collection, ranging from 17th-century Dutch painter Aert van der Neer, to works by modern and contemporary French and American artists including Charles Emile Jacques, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Reginald Marsh, and Adrian Piper. A group of objects and implements in the exhibition represent smoke more literally, such as items used for smoking tobacco, opium, and other substances, including Chinese water pipes and elaborately carved European and African tobacco pipes. Also, incense burners from Asia and North America reflect the use of smoke as an offering and agent of purification.

We invite you to explore the many meanings of smoke across cultures and time periods.

This exhibition has been co-curated by Fleming Museum curator, Aimee Marcereau DeGalan and collections manager Margaret Tamulonis. It is made possible through the generous support of the Kalkin Family Exhibitions Endowment Fund.