The Museum of Art and Design is one of our favorite escapes during the frenzy of Fashion Week. Not only is it close to the tents at Lincoln Center — though the walk can seem harrowing if you’re wearing Louboutin Very Privé platforms à la Michelle Tyree, our Editor in Chief — it’s known for always turning the idea of an exhibit on its ear. In the case of The Art of Scent, it’s turning museum exhibitions onto its nose. Former New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr curated the 15 pieces, creating the very first exhibition to showcase perfumery as a major medium of expression.
The exhibition is a sharp contrast to most art shows. Upon entering, visitors are immersed in a stark white box, where information on each piece — or scent — is projected on the wall. Guests lean into tiny niches and experience each scent via a blast of air. Among the works on display are old favorites, such as Chanel No. 5 (which was created in 1921) and Guerlain’s Jicky (from 1889), which are touchstones for modern perfumers today and are still available for consumers on cosmetic counters. More modern works, including Jean-Claude Ellena’s Osmanthe Yunnan for Hermès and Daniela Andrier’s Untitled for Maison Martin Margiela are being exhibited alongside the classics.
Burr chose the progression and the perfumes based on landmarks in perfumery. Innovations in the process of perfumery are also on display, including the huge shift that occurred when companies moved from using natural ingredients to synthetics. Visitors can also experience the making of perfume from start to finish, following the journey of Lancôme’s Trésor, starting with conception to research and development and finally production.
The exhibit itself was designed by architects Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, who created not only the exhibit itself but a salon that explores the significance of bottle design as an important aspect of the art of perfumery. History buffs, fashion fanatics and, of course, scent gurus will all be flocking to the exhibit and its accompanying talks, which include talks on Victor & Rolf’s Spicebomb and a create-your-own-scent lab led by master perfumer Carlos Benaim.
The Art of Scent runs through February 24, 2013. For more information, visit www.madmuseum.org.
Photos courtesy the Museum of Art and Design