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"Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880 to 1914" at L.A.'s Hammer Museum is worth the drive 

Headed down to Los Angeles anytime soon? Or maybe you’re just looking for an excuse to take a road trip? The exhibit “Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880 to 1914” at L.A.’s Hammer Museum is your perfect excuse: explicit, illicit, and unlikely ever to make it closer to home. As implied in the title, the exhibit juxtaposes the life of leisure led by wealthy women of Belle Époque Paris with the underworld of substance abuse in which less fortunate women sought refuge from the realities of their time. Approximately 100 works including books, etchings, lithographs, and works of paper ephemera—such as advertisements, theatre programs, and the like—comprise this curated selection from the Elizabeth Dean Collection.

The intimate nature of the works in this exhibit brings the viewer infinitely closer to the world in which they were rendered. The parallel innovations in both personal life and artistic expression can be seen in the many permutations of feminine roles in the restrictive Victorian social climate, where the “Angel of the House” became a trope almost no woman, it seems, could actually embody. Both male and female reactions to—and rejections of—this ideal show us a social structure thankfully removed from our own, yet still hauntingly relevant. Although the subject is most often female (though the male figure is also represented), male artists are unsurprisingly in the majority, with Impressionist darling Mary Cassatt the most notable exception. Not only does the exhibit confront us with exquisite and at times almost torturous visions of the past, it implies the question: How will our present visions of women and femininity be remembered 100 years from now?

Need any further needling (opiate pun intended)? As of Feb. 9 the Hammer Museum eliminated its entry fee, so even though you’ll be shouldering the guilt of the hotel room and gas, at least you can walk into the museum absolutely free. Hitch a ride with a friend and sleep on someone’s couch, and the exhibit starts to sound like a deal. And can you really put a price on sexy, half-drugged fin de siècle Frenchwomen? I thought not. “Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880 to 1914” is on view through May 18 during museum hours, Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit hammer.ucla.edu.

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