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Published on February 16th, 2013 | by Sarah


MAD’s Art of Scent: The Nose Knows

Despite the fact that I adamantly refuse to wear perfume, I am a huge fan of fragrance as art. Most of the time I satisfy this curiosity with perfume events or the beauty counter at Macy’s. Both options are frustrating at best, with too much glossy advertising and enough stray perfume to make even the boldest nose queasy. So imagine my excitement when I heard about “The Art of Scent” at the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan. The idea of being able to walk into a clean room and experience scents in their purest form without all the distractions and accessories is incredibly compelling. As the marketing indicates, this is the “first major museum exhibition to recognize scent as a major medium of artistic creation and fifteen artists who work in this medium”.

When I first walked in I was pleased to notice that the air was clean and crisp, without any overwhelming aromas. The white walls were interrupted with oval cavities, each with a small hole that would emit a puff of perfume when it detected your presence. Next to each sample was a short description of the perfume, which would unfortunately fade away randomly in a rather annoying fashion. I was warned that the samples they had chosen were slightly controversial, as the selection could not help but be influenced by the sponsors, which included Estée Lauder, Chanel, Givaudan, Hermès Parfums,  L’Oréal and P&G Prestige. Personally, I felt that an exhibit of this nature wouldn’t be complete without icons like Chanel no5, but I can understand why people were disappointed. It was nonetheless enjoyable to find familiar fragrances in this new environment.

In an adjacent room was a table with glass containers of each perfume and blotter cards to sample them. Along the wall were slots that dispensed cards containing different forms of Tresor while it was being formulated. Tresor happens to be my Mother’s perfume so it was incredible to smell it’s undeveloped versions.

Some people have dismissed the exhibit as a brash marketing ploy, but I think MAD finally displayed perfume properly. They stripped each scent of it’s packaging and allowed the “viewer” to experience the fragrance in it’s purest form. Even though I had smelled many of these perfumes before I had never been able to smell them in a blank context. I wish there was more information about each fragrance and hopefully future exhibits will contain more compelling samples, but overall I was pleased. Perfume has found a new platform to be appreciated as an art form, and I think this is just the beginning.

“The Art of Scent 1889-2012″ is currently exhibiting until March 3, 2013. Admission runs $15, or $12 for students and seniors.

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About the Author

Sarah Mimo is easily excitable about the arts and related events. She studied illustration at Pratt institute and has worked as a graphic designer. She currently crafts laser cut clocks (sarahmimo.com) and explores the art/design/crafting events in NYC.

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