probably hard to imagine your everyday fragrance as a piece of art, but “The
Art of Scent (1889-2012),” organized by Curator of Olfactory Art, Chandler Burr,
currently on display at the Museum of Art and Design, challenges you to do just
that. The exhibit features 12 of the most remarkable modern and contemporary
fragrances representing work done in specific aesthetic schools, including
Chanel N°5 by Ernest Beaux, Aromatics Elixir by Bernard Chant, and pleasures by
Annie Buzantin and Alberto Morillas. The goal is to establish fragrance as an
“olfactory art,” legitimizing it as an art form much as photography and other
mediums have done in the past half-century. If the idea of getting a fresh look
at some classic fragrances isn’t appealing enough, here are three reasons why
you have to see this game-changing exhibit.
You experience fragrance in its purest form
. The main room of the exhibit
contains 12 “scent machines” built directly into plain white walls. To use
them, you place your head into one of the alcoves—only one person can go at a
time—and the machine disperses a pure fragrance, undiluted by alcohol, which
remarkably stays contained in that area and doesn’t waft around the room. There
is very little to indicate which scent you’ll be experiencing at each station
and there are no other visuals or marketing materials. This was done to create
an unobtrusive space that will better aid you to experience the fragrance
without distractions, and more clearly smell what the artist-perfumer intended.
You get to share your thoughts in a social, interactive space
. The second room
features a large table with bowls of each fragrance—again, unbranded—and
testing strips for you to dip into the bowls and smell. However, unlike in the
first room, the setup allows for engagement with the rest of the attendees,
allowing you to share your thoughts on the scents you’re experiencing. You can
take it a step further by stepping over to one of the iPads stationed at the
table and assigning an adjective and noun to one of the scents. Your choice
will be projected onto a wall, where the most popular keywords are being
calculated in real time. This social element is a nice contrast to the more
personal experience of the first part of the exhibit.
3. It
can change the way you think about fragrance.  And, it’s fun!
The exhibit asks that you temporarily forget about
your identity as a consumer, and it’s admittedly difficult to resist thinking
of whether you’d actually wear it. Once you do, however, it’s easy to
appreciate the nuances and beauty of a scent in the purest way, without
individual skin chemistry and consumer thinking. Immersive and interactive
elements, and a combination of private reflection and dialogue with fellow
attendees make for a unique, eye-opening, and surprisingly enjoyable
experience. What better reason do you have to go?
“The Art of Scent” is running November 20 through February 24.
For more information about the Museum of Art and Design and the exhibit, click