Museums Exhibits

Philadelphia museum showing glass bongs as high art

"Freija" by Banjo and Snic Barnes is valued at $250,000.

"Freija" by Banjo and Snic Barnes is valued at $250,000.  (Photo by Alex Reyna)

A Philadelphia museum is putting a whole new twist on the term “high art.”

The National Liberty Museum will open on Friday a month-long art exhibit entitled “The Treachery of Images,” which will feature more than 50 hand-crafted glass water pipes (more commonly referred to as bongs in the marijuana smoking community) from 20 of the United States’ most prominent pipemakers and glass artists.

In what is being called the first exhibit of bongs in a museum setting, the artwork will not only be on display but will also be up for sale, with some valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. One pipe – entitled "Freija" -- is valued at $250,000.

The museum’s directors want to make clear that this exhibit is less about getting potheads to ogle over some pricey pipes and more about allowing an underground community of artists to showcase their work to the world without fear of being stigmatized or prosecuted.

“Some of these glass pipes you can’t tell if they’re pipes or pieces of art,” Meegan Coll, the National Liberty Museum’s glass director, told Fox News. “If you take a deeper look at these pieces you’ll see that they are amazing pieces of art as well as functional smoking devices. You really have to appreciate the art and the skill it takes to execute the creation of these pieces.”

The exhibit takes its title from a 1929 painting by Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte, which features an image of a pipe above the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (or “This is not a pipe” in French).

Coll said that the title is apt for the exhibit because the museum wants attendees to look at the pipes not just as smoking devices but as unique pieces of art.

“We’re asking the viewer not to think about the fact that these are pipes, but to look more broadly at them,” she added.

As more and more states in the U.S. loosen their marijuana laws, more and more of these artists are able to come out of the shadows and acknowledge their work. Bongs and other glass pipes have been a point of contention for years within the glassblowing community and their makers have been excluded from shows – and even from being called artists – by their fellow craftsmen.

“This is a real underground movement and these artists in the past were worried that they would be arrested if they used their real names,” Coll said. “It’s a tight-knit community and they are excited to see their work on display in a setting of a museum or gallery that one wouldn’t think would show this kind of stuff.”

Gwen Borowsky, the National Liberty Museum’s CEO, told Fox News that the exhibit has generated a lot of buzz, with the museum having already oversold its opening reception and some of the pieces flaring up interest from potential buyers.

“A lot of people who buy these pieces buy them as pieces of art and not to smoke out of,” Borowsky said. “These are pieces that you wouldn’t want to put a match to.”

The show runs from April 7 to May 7 at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia’s Old City section.