An image of Frida Kahlo taking a deep drag serves as inspirational lodestone for this group show of six woman artists who feature cigarettes in their work. If it sounds high-concept, that’s because it is, but the result is a tight meditation on the historical relationship between women and smoking.
Once taboo for women, cigarettes became a symbol of female empowerment after World War I. Notwithstanding its lethality, smoking equaled liberation, while marketers spotted an opportunity to target previously untapped consumers.
The pieces here run the gamut in terms of responses, from noting the subject’s sex appeal to highlighting its associations with dependency and death. Amanda Nedham creates whimsical animals out of cigarette butts, while Ilse Getz’s Arman-style accumulations and Irini Miga’s lone cig stuck to the wall take a more critical view. The same goes for Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s Philip Guston–esque canvas, which speaks to desperation and stale odors hanging in the air. Anne Doran’s ’80s-vintage photo-sculpture unpacks smoking’s allure, while Genesis Belanger’s wall reliefs and paintings turn the cigarette into a formalist motif.
Today, smoking has been stigmatized once again and not just for women. But as “Frida Smoked” attests, the cigarette’s cultural resonance has yet to burn out.