While drug abuse is a recurring theme in contemporary art, too many artists seem to believe that blurry photos of junkies with needles hanging out of their arms propose meaningful commentaries on addiction. By contrast, New York artist Barbara Broughel offers an unusual and poignant exploration of the theme by using a historian's approach to the $750-billion drug trade. She presents a group of refined sculptural objects and several watercolors produced over the past five or six years. The results comprise a careful study of heroin and opium use focused on the drugs' development in India and transport to China by the East India Company in the 19th century.
Displayed as a kind of natural history museum installation, the show, titled "Opium Works," features a large raised platform spanning the back wall. Arranged on the platform are numerous objects -- an umbrella, an abacus, a gigantic pipe and a large painted screen. Also on view is a tall greenish glass bottle like the kind that in the 19th century contained laudanum, a widely used form of liquid morphine. To complete the tableau, a large hourglass filled with mannitol, a white powder used to cut pure heroin, stands at one end of the platform, while at the other, a wheelbarrow containing a skeleton and bunches of dried poppies, indicates the addict's final resting place.
Barbara Broughel, "Opium Works," Oct. 22-Dec. 1, 1999, at Fredericke Taylor/TZ'Art, 470 Broome, New York, N.Y. 10013.