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Monday, November 19, 2012

Smell Is the New Photography, or, HOW DARE YOU SPEAK ABOUT SCENTS THAT WAY

Posted by on Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 3:53 PM

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.)


Comments (12) RSS

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Dougsf 1
There Are No Words: Anatomy of a Migraine.
—EMP 2013
Posted by Dougsf on November 19, 2012 at 4:11 PM · Report this
I'm a huge fan of Chandler Burr, especially because he is so passionate about scent and so tends to come off a bit insane. I generally find that sort of zealot personality tiresome (see: religion, politics, food) but I tend to love it when its directed toward art, style and design (including fragrance).
Posted by mitten on November 19, 2012 at 4:12 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 3
But we can clearly see the materials used to make a building. That's a huge part of the appeal of a Gehry. Why shouldnt we know what's in his stinky insufferable crap?
Posted by Dr_Awesome on November 19, 2012 at 4:40 PM · Report this
How about this for a scent installation at the EMPSFMXYZABC: Old Rich Guy's Attic Full of Crap He Likes. They've got the curved walls and the crap, all they need are some placards and a really passionate olfaphile like Mr. Burr to sell it. If they don't have room for the placards, maybe we can sell P-Al some more land on the cheap so they can expand.
Posted by Corporations Are People Too on November 19, 2012 at 6:45 PM · Report this
disintegrator 5
Scent is so difficult as a shared experience, and I feel like that's such an essential part of art...

Still, oenophiles freak out together fine, so maybe I'm wrong.
Posted by disintegrator on November 19, 2012 at 7:13 PM · Report this
TheRain 6
This is the WASPiest load of bullshit in the history of WASPy loads of bullshit.
Posted by TheRain on November 19, 2012 at 8:35 PM · Report this
Fnarf 7
I'm going to eat a pound of my special three-day-old refried beans and go to the Met and show them what olfactory art is all about.
Posted by Fnarf on November 19, 2012 at 8:46 PM · Report this
Fnarf, dammit, you beat me to the fart joke. Surely they would not be so offensive as to dissect your fart ingredient by ingredient, but rather see it as a whole. I'd hate to see Burr inflamed -- but farts are flammable...
Posted by carnivorous chicken on November 19, 2012 at 9:16 PM · Report this
Another thought -- what about an olfactory (f)art-in, whereby several (dozen?) people visit the exhibit and do their best to out-olfactory the odorous art?
Posted by carnivorous chicken on November 19, 2012 at 9:18 PM · Report this
Fnarf 10
@8, there's always room for more. You could be over there, enjoying the results of nine stale PBRs, while I'm in the far corner preaching the gospel of beans.
Posted by Fnarf on November 19, 2012 at 9:32 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 11
The perfumeries near Nice include a few museums of scent. Way more fun than the pebbly beach.
Posted by Will in Seattle on November 19, 2012 at 10:20 PM · Report this
@10 How did you know what I drank last night?
Posted by carnivorous chicken on November 20, 2012 at 8:18 AM · Report this

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