Up in Smoke

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Among the new installments at the Fleming Museum is the exhibit “Up In Smoke,” a multicultural display of the ongoing interaction between humans and smoke. 

From a 17th century depiction of Amsterdam enflamed to the dawn of the factory boom in Vermont to the overdramatized allure of cigarettes in modern art, “Up In Smoke” chronicles the give and take, as well as the ever-changing interjection of smoke into society. 

Throughout a wide yet ambiguous range of histories from around the world, onlookers are shown scenes of happiness, luxury, mystique and devastation. The scenes continually grow and become more elaborate throughout the centuries, highlighting the beauty as well as serenity in the simplicity of past civilizations. 

The Wilbur Room is the first gallery in the museum, and presents the exhibit’s largest display, its manifesto: to raise awareness of the “ubiquitous” role smoke plays in everyday life.

“Up In Smoke” incites the idea of smoke and humanity coexisting, while suggesting a growing dependency on man’s behalf. Within this relationship, regardless of balancing need, is the realized potential for good that comes with the notion of smoke, as well as its ever-looming danger and sheer power. 

Among the pieces in the large, wooden room are etchings, incense, ink prints, wooden and water pipes, and a featured painting from the Baroque period by Dutch artist Aert van der Neer

In this rather non-cohesive collection of the various ways in which smoke is used in different cultures, an international unifying dichotomy of man-made progression and elemental destruction exists, as well as peace and addiction, within society.  

The exhibit as a whole doesn’t offer as captivating an experience as its title suggests, but it does confront its audience with an interesting thought piece. If nothing else, it offers a window into ancient cultures, as well as the industrial formation of our own.  

“Up in Smoke” will be on display until Aug. 26.