deconstructing perfume

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The Art of Scent exhibit at New York’s Museum of Art and Design is a foray into how perfumes are born. It is a minimalist yet visually striking exhibit that surveys a brief history of Western perfumery through key fragrances. The twelve fragrances showcased are all scents that were available on the market at some point. Beginning with Guerlain’s Jicky (1889) and ending with Margiela’s Untitled (2010)ach scent represents a particular trend in fragrance.

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The first room is an open airy space with twelve yonic wells installed in the wall that emit a motion-sensitive gust of perfumed air. It is a surprisingly gentle way to experience each scent. There are timed privalite displays in the place of plaques to explain the historical significance and composition of each fragrance.

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The second room is even more hands on with a long glass table and chairs where visitors can sit and experience a more potent version of the twelve fragrances by dipping scent strips into small vials of the actual perfume in liquid form. At opposite ends of the table there are two options for contributing feedback on the exhibit that is projected in a real-time word cloud on a wall. One is an ipad that captures word associations for each individual experience of the fragrances. The other is a white notebook in which guests may record their personal associations with scent. The wall installation takes visitors through the process of building a fragrance through different modifications. The walls deliver a card for each of the five “mods” of Lancome’s popular fragrance Trésor (1990).

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The Art of Scent evokes the wonderfully subjective and ephemeral nature of fragrance in an immersive experience that speaks to all of the five senses. If only there was more of an aural component other than video recordings of interviews. Nonetheless, the exhibit promises an exciting future for multisensorial art made possible by cutting-edge technology.

 

The Art of Scent is at the Museum of Art and Design, 11, Columbus Circle, NY, NY 10019 until February 24, 2013

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