Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Angel is Bubbles, Money, Glossy, while Prada Amber is Fog, Soil, Concrete...Perfume as Art

The Art of Scent has highlighted some of the aspects that make perfumery the engrossing, fascinating subject that it is. What can be communicated through scent that defies the breakdown of "notes" or even ingredients? Its artfulness can take many forms, none more so than evoking the stimuli that other senses would evoke in its place. The exhibition at the MAD Museum in NYC, curated by Chandler Burr, has opened to a great response and these are some photos to give you a glimpse of it...plus one pre-exhibition shot to show the space being prepared, pregnant with hope and expectations of history in the making...Enjoy!

Official photos by Ric Kallaher, courtesy of the > Museum of Arts and Design
click to enlarge

The catalogue of the exhibition including 11 essays by Burr and the vials of the collection can be purchased on the Musuem online store. Only 1000 copies are available, individually numbered.


  1. This is a very interesting concept and I know an extension of Mr Burrs other endeavors. What is really intriguing to me is the sterile environment that these rather typical, (with Jicky perhaps as an exception) scents are being exhibited. It is so foreign to the emotional and human way perfume is actually worn. How will the notes "flesh" out so to speak? In effect, Chandler Burr is removing an important component of perfume, and that is the body. I know for me personally, paper scent strips do not do it for me when I am testing a perfume I feel may be a winner for me. That said, maybe I am over thinking this. I feel he has just touched the very tip of what a scent museum can be, but this is still a great thing.

  2. Anonymous19:06

    @stelmadesigns you aren't overthinkng this, it is a shortcoming of the exhibition style. Probably it is necessary to present "fragrance as art" to a general audience in a very stereotypical "art gallery" environment, in order to get an audience that would not normally view perfume as an art engaged in this type of thinking. Necessary but it is also problematic.


  3. Stelma,

    hmm, I do get what you're saying (and there's a point from a perfume lover's point of view assuredly), but I think the whole premise is totally different than "may be a winner for me".

    I believe what Chandler is doing is taking contemporary (and a few older) fragrances and putting them on through their objective artistic merits regardless of whether one likes them or not, much like taking a Pollock and not focusing on whether one sees just splotches or much more, but rather whether it advanced the medium and how.
    In that regard any subjective variations, however big or small, dependent on skin or an individual's perception, are non-sensical in the above context. He tries to highlight not the personal impressions they create (because that's dependent on the individual and it cannot related to artistic merit), nor putting them on a petri dish breaking down ingredients (because that would be a chemist's job). I think he tries to communicate how they are contextualized into the other arts' movements of the late 19th-20th and early 21st century.
    Otherwise it would have been a Sniffapalooza meeting of aficionados sniffing around with some art speak thrown in, clearly something the MAD wasn't interested in, nor Chandler.

  4. Lily,

    the gallery installation does present a more austere environment for the fragrance exhibits to deassociate themselves from a shopping spree atmosphere. I guess they need to be presented sparsely and without frills to be taken seriously, as is the premise of the exhibition.
    Regarding the skin element lacking, please see my reply above to Stelma. I believe it was intentional.

    As to the curation of scents, and to return to Stelma's comment, I personally find it refreshing that he's moved into contemporary fragrances that have low or zero coverage on the familiar perfume aficion sites: after all, we all know Shalimar or Chanel No.5 are good and what more is there to say about them?

  5. Thanks for your comment Perfumeshrine, (("hmm, I do get what you're saying (and there's a point from a perfume lover's point of view assuredly), but I think the whole premise is totally different than "may be a winner for me"."))
    and I just want to clarify my comment "winner for me", as I didn't make myself clear at all. I meant *in general*, I don't use paper strips much when I personally smell perfumes, I didn't mean it so much as regards the exhibition but then, I was thinking of perfume as something applied to skin generally and you all are so right, that this is not what this exhibit is about. On the other hand, would not the artistic merit be more true when smelled on skin? How can all the notes and the complexities of evaporation and the scent as it changes be experienced? All I am saying is perfume as an art form or not is meant to be smelled on skin, is it not? Can you smell all the nuances in that set up they have there at the museum? I should say, I am a visual artist myself, so this gets me thinking quite a bit. In that context, I am not sure I would agree with the categories that he places the perfumes in which he feels correspond to art movements from various centuries.
    But then, I am not able to see the exhibit or read the reasons why he feels this way :o)

  6. stelma,

    you're welcome and thanks for further clarifying. I think I understand better now what you were saying.

    Hmmm, yes, skin and its warmth do contribute to the effect of perfume evaporating. That's true. It does make for a somewhat enhanced experience, so some subtleties might be lost just smelling on test strips or through a device that aromatizes the air (as is done in the exhibition). But that would also mean that it just might contribute to a variated experience (if we go the "personal chemistry" road) and that would mean that we'd all perceive it differently even if the artist never intended it to be so!!

    Personally I don't believe perfumery is an art form, so much, for various reasons, one of which is the above. I can't compare it to painting or music, much as Chandler is making a persuasive case. I'm with Daniela Andrier on this. ;-)
    The more we try to impose artistic insights on the creations of a perfume the further we remove ourselves from the reality of how perfumes are actually being created: which is more based on socioeconomic reasons, the zeitgeist (part of which is art in general, to that much I agree) and marketing demands. Yes, even in those sacre monstres of yesteryear!
    Naturally the creators are flattered to see their work given a deeper meaning than perhaps even they themselves intended. That remains to be seen, as to how the respond to all of this, but I don't think we will see major dissent ;-) In my mind only a handful of them are on a par with Monet or Magritte, simply due to the circumstances of their work, and I place Jean Claude Ellena in that handful, FWIW)

    Just my opinion of course; one doesn't have to agree with it, but it makes for interesting discussion, doesn't it.

  7. To add something: Of course by denouncing "art status" for perfumery I'm not saying there's no thinking behind each creation. There is. But there is also much thinking and reasoning and insights behind a craft and to many ways perfumery works like a craft.

  8. I now see that Jessica at NST who attended has pinpointed what I have been thinking (sans attending) as well:

    "To me, the problem with focusing only on materials, technique, and technology is that the fragrances are divorced from the complex webs of commerce and fashion and social history and use that surround them. " [...]

    "When we see a brand name on a perfume bottle, we do bring preconceptions and associations to the fragrance inside, but that dynamic runs in more than one direction: the client has commissioned a fragrance that suits its overall image. When everything comes together as it should, there’s a correlation between the fragrance and the surrounding aesthetic of the designer and/or brand, to say nothing of the cultural moment in which the fragrance was created. "


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