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Museum of Arts and Design presents first museum exhibition exploring the design of perfume
Installation shot "The Art of Scent 1889-2012". Photo: Brad Farwell.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Art of Scent 1889-2012 is the first museum exhibition dedicated to exploring the design and aesthetics of olfactory art through twelve pivotal fragrances, dating from 1889 to the present, which profoundly impacted the course of the medium. On view November 20, 2012, through February 24, 2013, at the Museum of Arts and Design, the exhibition examines major stylistic developments in the evolution and design of fragrance, and provides unprecedented insight into the creative visions and intricate processes of the artists responsible for crafting the featured works. Each scent is experienced individually in a special installation designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro that emphasizes the distinct combination of artistry and raw materials used in their creation.

Organized by MAD’s Curator of Olfactory Art, Chandler Burr, The Art of Scent explores the progression of olfactory art, highlighting the artistic and cultural movements as well as the social and political occurrences that influenced each scent artist in the creation of their work. The exhibition examines scent from the beginning of the late nineteenth century—when the introduction of synthetic molecules freed scent artists from the constraints of using all-natural materials, making scent a true artistic medium—through the present day. Opening with the work of Aimé Guerlain, who was among the first to introduce synthetic molecules alongside natural materials with the design of Jicky (1889), The Art of Scent then leads visitors through an olfactory experience that showcases some of the most significant scents created during the 20th and early 21st centuries, ending with Daniela Andrier’s neo-brutalist fragrance Untitled (2010).

“At MAD, we are always looking to push boundaries and question the hierarchies in art by exploring the materials and processes behind groundbreaking work,” said Holly Hotchner, the museum’s Nanette L. Laitman Director. “There has not been the exploration or recognition of olfactory art as there has been of art that stimulates the other four senses. In plain language, this exhibition is a game changer.

Presented in MAD’s fourth floor galleries, the exhibition facilitates a focused olfactory experience through the near-complete removal of visual indicators, such as logos and marketing materials, encouraging visitors to concentrate exclusively on their sense of smell. While commercial presentations of scent utilize alcohol, The Art of Scent features scent machines that disperse the scents in minutely focused streams of air—allowing for a more concentrated scent experience. The exhibition also provides visitors with an unprecedented glimpse into the labor-intensive artistic process of creating perfume by showcasing the stages of development for one fragrance, Trésor by Sophia Grojsman, from the initial written brief to the first iteration and through the layering and modification of scent required to reach the final desired work of olfactory art.

At its center, the exhibition presents the work of some of the most significant modern and contemporary scent artists, including:

• Ernest Beaux, who in 1921 used chemical compounds known as synthetic aldehydes in combination with a floral structure to create the first great modernist work with Chanel N˚ 5;

• Bernard Chant, whose Aromatics Elixir (1971) was one of the great mid-twentieth century works that brought America into the forefront of perfume creation;

• Annie Buzantian and Alberto Morillas, who in using a carbon dioxide extraction in their influential Pleasures (1995), mainstreamed a major technological advance in the medium and altered olfactory design;

• Oliver Cresp, whose Light Blue (2001) presents a straightforward “still life” of scents from the natural world without ornament or aesthetic subtext;

• Jean-Claude Ellena, who pioneered a minimalist school in scent with works such as the light and brilliant Osmanthe Yunnan that have maximal impact; and

• Daniela Andrier, whose Untitled (2010) is an ingenious neo-brutalist work that references nature both violently and abstractly.

• Other works of olfactory art featured in the exhibition include: Jicky (1889) by Aimé Guerlain; L’Interdit (1957) by Fabrice Fabron; Drakkar Noir (1982) by Pierre Wargnye; L’Eau d’Issey (1992) by Jacques Cavallier; Angel (1992) by Olivier Cresp; and Prada Amber (2003) by Carlos Benaϊm and Clément Gavarry.

Recognizing the social aspect of selecting and experiencing perfumes, The Art of Scent culminates in a space where visitors may converse and compare the featured works of olfactory art, and provide feedback about the exhibition. The shared responses and personal insights become part of the exhibition’s record, underscoring that the individual experience of fragrance is the concluding factor in the works’ artistry and design.

“Much as museum visitors typically follow the trajectory of modern art and design by viewing a succession of iconic works, at MAD they can explore the aesthetic evolution and creative innovations of modern and contemporary olfactory works using their sense of smell,” said exhibition curator Chandler Burr. “While these perfumes are regularly experienced, they are seldom acknowledged as the works of art and design that they are. My goal for this exhibition is to transform the ways in which people respond to scent artists and their art. The works presented in this exhibition are ones that have each had a profound impact on the history of this artistic medium.”

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