Exciting times for those of us interested in the 'perfumery as art' debate. Later today, New York's Museum Of Arts And Design will unveil its first exhibit at its Department Of Olfactory Art, as curated by Chandler Burr. Details of the catalogue have just been revealed, and guess what, it's actually going to contain bottles of perfume (specifically: eleven of the twelve fragrances currently 'on show' at the museum). How novel. How exciting. And how very, very apt. Kudos to Mr Burr for somehow managing to make it possible.
Before you order a copy, bear in mind that it's going to cost around $250 and that it may not be available to folks outside the USA. But at least its availability marks a laudable attempt to allow people who can't make it to the Big Apple to experience the exhibition for themselves. Mind you, if this New York Times article is anything to go by, I'm sorely tempted to make my first ever trip across the Atlantic. The design of the museum space - featuring specially designed scent diffusion machines - sounds too sci-fi to pass up.
The article's worth reading for reasons which go beyond descriptions of the exhibition's mechanics. At one point, Burr reportedly responds to a request for a more 'straightforward' description of perfumes with the following words: "I am completely opposed to this idiotic reductionism of works of olfactory art to their raw materials, which is as stupid as reducing a Frank Gehry building to the kind of metal, the kind of wood and the kind of glass that he used.” I'm not sure I entirely agree and I'm not even sure I see the connection as valid. For instance, when it comes to a piece of music, I happen to think that, yes, an appraisal of its merits could legitimately take into account the instruments on which it's played or the equipment on which it's recorded. It's not the whole picture, but it could be a way into appreciating the whole. But that's almost besides the point. What's more important is that we have someone like Burr making these sorts of assertions and provoking us into formulating our own thoughts and ideas.
At the end of the piece, Daniela Andrier states, "I do think it takes a creative soul to make fragrances, but I don’t think it makes us artists.” She does then qualify this by claiming that "museums are filled with things that I don’t see as art" and that her Untitled for Maison Martin Margiela "is more interesting than a lot of the stuff you find in museums.” But her ambivalence provides more evidence that this is a fascinating area of thought and discussion which is likely to yield many rewards in the years to come, as long as people try to engage with it seriously and with a willingness to be shaken out of strongly-held notions.
Finally, the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the exhibition's catalogue contains only 11 of the 12 scents selected by Burr. Which one wasn't allowed to join the gang? Take a guess... and then count to 5...