New York’s Center of Olfactory Art: The Nose Really Knows

The Museum of Arts and Design has opened a new Center of Olfactory Art, which is dedicated to projecting as an art form the illusive entity known as scent. It is considered a “sensory museum”, where visitors can not only touch but also smell many of the objects on display.

The first exhibition, “The Art of Scent, 1889-2011” will examine the various developments in the history of olfactory art by introducing to the visitor some of history’s best-known perfumers via ten original scents. The modern era of fragrances began in the late 19th century with the introduction of synthetic materials.

The works of leading scent artists are featured in this exhibit. These include: Thierry Mugler, who created Angel, Jacques Cavallier, who introduced L’Eau d’Issey; and Alberto Morillas and Annie Buzantian, who mainstreamed perfume as an art form by utilizing a technologically advanced, carbon dioxide extraction in their influential works.

Chandler Burr, the former fragrance critic of The New York Times, has been hired as the department’s curator. He states his agenda quite clearly when he says:

“To place olfactory art within the mainstream of art history and to show that scent is a legitimate artistic medium, the equal of painting, sculpture, architecture and music.”

Visitors to the museum are provided with an audio guide narrated by Burr that explains the context in which the featured scents were created. In order for visitors (smellers?) to appreciate each perfume as an independent entity, all they are told about each scent is who made it and when.

A 6-foot-wide path that follows the curve of the gallery exhibits each fragrance along the wall where buttons on a specially designed atomizing machine release the scent.

In the words of museum director Holly Hotchner:

“More a curatorial department within the museum than a separate entity, the museum created the new center because scent is a really interesting part of the world of design…It fits the institution’s DNA as a sensuous, sensory-orientated museum, where patrons can touch and feel many of the objects…”

The center is the only one of its kind to study fragrance as an art. One museum in France focuses on the history of perfume and another in Madrid features only fragrance bottles.

So come over and smell sometime.

You may never be the same again.

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