New Exhibit Asks Visitors to Sniff Out Art

Admirers of the arts have long utilized their eyes and ears, but a new exhibit in New York will challenge visitors to bring their noses into play.

On Thursday, the Museum of Arts and Design announced the launch of the Center of Olfactory Art, a permanent department that will explore scent as an art form.

As its first curator, the museum has hired Chandler Burr, the former fragrance critic of the New York Times and author of two books on scent. Part of Burr's job will be to poke his nose into the connections between history and smell.

"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," says Burr in a statement released by the museum.

The first exhibition, titled "The Art of Scent, 1889-2011," will debut next November. The museum plans to showcase 10 groundbreaking fragrances by some of the most well known perfumers. The gallery experience will take visitors along a 6-foot-wide path, where buttons will release "the work of art" via specially designed atomizing machines.

The only identifying information for each piece will be a simple placard noting the name, artist and year, allowing visitors to appreciate each individual work without the distraction of their packaging.

An accompanying audio guide, narrated by Burr, will explain the background of each work and place it into historical context.

"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," says Burr.

So far, MAD is the only museum to study fragrance as art. The International Perfume Museum in Grasse, France is dedicated to exploring the history of fragrances, but focuses more on the packaging than the actual scent.

"At MAD, we are always looking to push boundaries and question the hierarchies in art by exploring the materials and processes behind groundbreaking work," says Holly Hotchner, one of the museum directors.

"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."

Photo, ginnerobot, flickr.

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