Museum of Arts and Design to Present First Museum Exhibition of Perfume as an Art Form

The first-ever museum exhibition on perfume as an art form will premiere at the Museum of Arts and Design in November 2011. Organized by MAD and curated by Chandler Burr, the scent critic for The New York Times, The Art of Scent, 1889-2011 will examine ten pivotal scents as masterful works of art, crafted from both natural raw materials and synthetic molecules. A special installation designed by architect Toshiko Mori that utilizes atomizing machines will provide visitors with a pure, olfactory experience of each work in the exhibition.

The Art of Scent highlights major stylistic developments in the history of olfactory art, beginning in the late nineteenth century—when the use of synthetic materials ushered in the modern era of fragrances—through the present day. Visitors will experience the work of leading scent artists, among them: Thierry Mugler, who created Angel, considered to be the paradigmatic gourmand work of the twentieth century; Jacques Cavallier, who introduced a more minimalist olfactory design in L’Eau d’Issey; and Alberto Morillas and Annie Buzantian, who in using a carbon dioxide extraction in their influential Pleasures mainstreamed a major technological advance in the art form.

“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 is a game changer.”

Presented in MAD’s second floor galleries, the exhibition will facilitate a focused olfactory experience through the complete removal of bottling, design graphics, and other brand indicators. Free of their packaging, demarcated only by name, artist, and year, the scent can be appreciated by visitors as independent works of olfactory art. The Art of Scent, 1889-2011 will be accompanied by a catalogue featuring identically bottled samples of the ten works in the exhibition.

“Much as museum visitors typically follow the trajectory of modern art by viewing a succession of paintings, at MAD they will be able to 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 often encountered, they are seldom acknowledged as the works of art 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.”

Perfume has a rich history that parallels more widely understood movements in the visual, auditory, and tactile arts. Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky (1889), although similar in style to the traditional romanticist fragrances of its day, was also one of the first to use synthetic ingredients, ushering in the modern era much as advancements in photographic technology altered the direction of visual art in the late nineteenth century. Germaine Cellier’s Fracas (1948) is one of the defining works of mid-century olfactory brutalism, created during the mid-century period when similar trends can be detected in architecture. Edmond Roudnitska’s Diorama (1949) is one of the first great works of 20th-century abstract expressionism in the medium. Rossy de Palma: Eau de Protection (2007) by Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieu is more bold, aggressive, and violent—“the olfactory equivalent of a Francis Bacon painting,” according to Burr.

The Art of Scent, 1889-2011 will be accompanied by a full-color catalogue with essays by Chandler Burr. The book will cover nearly one hundred perfumes, and will include ten identical vials of each of the works exhibited in the exhibition.

Additionally, all artworks featured in the exhibition will be available for individual purchase in The Store at MAD in identical, MAD-designed packaging.

The scent critic for The New York Times, Chandler Burr has written and lectured extensively on perfume. He is the author of two books on scent, The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession (2003), and the Last Mystery of the Senses and The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris & New York (2008). Burr collaborates with internationally renowned chefs to host interactive Scent Dinners, master classes exploring the artistry of culinary perfumes and raw materials. He has contributed to Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, among other publications.

The Museum of Arts and Design explores how craftsmanship, art, and design intersect in the visual arts today. The Museum focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the handmade to cutting edge technologies.

The Museum’s exhibition program explores and illuminates issues and ideas, highlights creativity and craftsmanship, and celebrates the limitless potential of materials and techniques when used by creative and innovative artists. MAD’s permanent collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1950 to the present day.

At the center of the Museum’s mission is education. The Museum’s dynamic new facility features classrooms and studios for master classes, seminars, and workshops for students, families and adults. Three open artist studios engage visitors in the creative processes of artists at work and enhance the exhibition programs. Lectures, films, performances and symposia related to the Museum’s collection and topical subjects affecting the world of contemporary art, craft and design are held in a renovated 144-seat auditorium.

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