There is not much to see, but definitely a lot to sniff at the olfactory art exhibition ‘The Art of Scent 1889 — 2014’, hosted by the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain. Curated by Chandler Burr, former perfume critic at The New York Times, the exhibition is an updated version of a previous exhibition that was presented in the New York Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in 2012. Like its predecessor, it presents perfume makers as artists, placing their olfactory works on the same level as creations of art, literature and music.
The design of the exhibition layout was commissioned to Cano Estudio, a Madrid-based creative agency known for its work with large luxury brands, which created a blank, white space that appears to be completely empty — at least for art-exhibition standards! The idea was of course to give as little visual stimulus as possible, and bring attention to ‘‘the least popular of the senses, olfaction’’. Jesús Cano, the designer responsible for the the display, explains the rationale behind the exhibition design: ‘‘We sought to create a space that intrinsically invited visitors to lower their voices, breathe deep and for a few moments, disconnect from the outside world. The goal was to create a relaxing atmosphere to discover the perfume. Perfume in its purest state. Without decorations. That is, without containers or packaging. Simply, aroma, mind and feeling.’’ Cano Estudio is also responsible for the graphic image of the exhibition, as well as the design of the catalogue that accompanies it.
In addition, this exhibition also reveals the relationship of each perfume with emblematic works of art history: with a QR code, it is possible to discover works of visual art which, just like the perfumes ‘on display’, were icons of their time. The exhibition presents a total of eight artistic trends within the field of olfactory arts:
Romanticism: Jicky by Aimé Guerlain for Guerlain.
Modernism: Chanel No5 by Enest Beaux for Chanel.
Surrealism: Angel by Olivier Cresp for Thierry Mugler.
Neo-Romanticism: Prada Amber by Carlos Benaïm, Max Gavarry and Clément Gavarry for Prada.
Photorealism: Eau de Lierre by Fabrice Pellegrin for Diptyque.
Figurative contemporary: J’adore L’Absolu by François Demachy for Dior.
Neoclassicism: Aqua Universalis by Francis Kurkdjian for Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
20th century retro: Aura by Emilio Valeros for Loewe.