I love a good indignation scene, and I am indignantly in love with the eternally underrated sense of smell. So I cannot resist sharing this NYT story on an exhibition of perfumes this season at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
There are no bottles in this exhibition. The show is nothing but 12 scents sprayed at you in whiffs out of specially designed curved walls with "scent-diffusion machines" hidden behind them.
And the labels are careful not to speak about perfumes the way perfumes are normally spoken about because UNDIGNIFIED. Exhibition curator Chandler Burr (!) explains:
When asked to speak more straightforwardly about what particular fragrances smell like — citrus, say, or sandalwood — Mr. Burr became inflamed.
“I am completely opposed to this idiotic reductionism of works of olfactory art to their raw materials, which is as stupid as reducing a Frank Gehry building to the kind of metal, the kind of wood and the kind of glass that he used,” Mr. Burr proclaimed.
Burr wrote the 2003 book The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession and was a scent critic for the NYT. From his archive:
The first Spencer Hurwitz perfume I smelled several years ago was Pamplemousse (perhaps we could call this Grapefruit and be done with it), and it was excellent. Crisp, luscious, edible, tangy grapefruit, becoming slightly darker as it evolves into a bergamot/bitter-orange aspect, like a shard of glass under halogen with someone very gradually dimming the lights. We simply move from sparkling to hypnotic. Citrus molecules are as light and bouncy as Ping-Pong balls in an earthquake, and they tend to zip away or decompose, but this is a bitter quinine tonic water delight whose diffusion remains surprisingly excellent. Pamplemousse is not a work of complex art like 2 by Comme des Garçons. But it doesn’t need to be. The molecules ping off skin like an astringent breeze, and the effect is transfixing.
Burr has now created an olfactory art department at the museum, and museum director Holly Hotchner compares scent to photography, "which even into the 1970s was seen as 'a very different venture from art,' she said."
I smell an astringent breeze, and the effect is transfixing. Why not a museum of olfactory art? The walls at EMPSFMXYIOIHSTEIHO are curving already, and EMP is always looking for some new angle. (Just don't ask Gehry what the building is made of.)