Winner of the samples, chosen using random.org is: Hilary!
Get in touch with me at the email on the left and I'll send them out posthaste!
Caro Verbeek is an art historian who specializes in art and the senses. In the most recent "ARTnews" magazine, she talks about how she became aware of the dearth of the olfactory sense’s place in contemporary art. In 1999, she saw an exhibit at the Venice Biennale which had an olfactory component.
“I smelled it way before I saw it, and I had no idea that this was a part of a work of art…." she says. "I thought, I am an art historian, but I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t know how to understand this. I have no frame for this.”
Somewhere along the line, olfaction became the dirty sense. It was primitive and animalistic, connecting us to the lower orders. When performance and conceptual art met installation art in the Sixties, olfaction, with its ephemerality, would have seemed a natural match. That didn’t happen. It may have been that perfume was already seen by the art world as a grooming product, too commercial even for Andy Warhol. Perfumes were and are marketed not as art or even craft, but as sexual attractants. This led to some pretty silly advertising, then to all those wonderful celeb-u-scents and the frivolous reputation personal fragrance enjoys even today.
Olfaction-based art has made some inroads lately, though. In fact, it’s one of the lead stories in the March ARTnews, the venerable glossy publication aimed at those who buy, sell and (sometimes) make art.
The article, titled “Scents & Sensibility,” has a broad reach. This piece covers many bases, from an artist’s eponymous perfume (Kiki Smith’s “Kiki,” which she created with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel), to an exhibit at the New Museum in New York, in which visitors are exposed to scents in the air and left alone to interpret them, to a performance piece in which artist Gayil Nalls infused cardboard pieces with scent and dropped them onto New Year’s Eve revelers in Times Square, to a retooling of old vending machines to dispense mood-altering essential oils, to the collection, then distillation, of dancers’ sweat. And more.
There are some familiar names here. One is Chandler Burr, who is the curator of the new Center for Olfactory Art in New York, whose first show “The Art of Scent, 1889 - 2011,” will open in the fall of 2011. He states his intent to focus upon designer fragrances for this show. Such fragrances, he believes, meet the criteria by which the other arts -- sculpture, music, architecture and film -- are judged.
Meanwhile, over in the fine-arts department, it appears that olfactory art is not completely new. Marcel Duchamp filled a room with burnt coffee grounds as part of a Surrealism exhibition in Paris. Ed Keinholtz’s reconstruction of the bar at the L.A. roadhouse Barney’s Beanery also used olfactory components: bar smells, like cigarette smoke, booze and urine (in this case, his own...uh-oh, here comes the goon-squad Right Wing: put the torches down, boys! Not a nickel of tax-pay-uhs’ money was spent. The exhibit is housed in Holland, okay?)
Ahem. Well, as with most installation/performance art I’ve seen -- and I’ve seen plenty -- these works range from profound to original to baffling to lame. Like most art of this type, the justifications -- the artists’ “statements” about their works -- tend to be written in tangled, esoteric verbiage that excludes ordinary mortals from understanding it. That comes with the art-world territory. I believe Verbeek meant that when she said she didn’t have a “frame” for olfaction’s place in art.
Art magazines, and articles like this one, exist to “frame” a trend, or a movement; they legitimize it. They influence the pickers and choosers, the gallery owners and curators, who influence critics, collectors and each other.
If the art is what happens in the viewer’s mind, which is one definition of conceptual art I’ve read, then olfactory art certainly fits that paradigm. Curator Yasmil Raymond’s thoughts link these ideas neatly. “The work, when it smells, enters the realm of a human being. This life component enters into it -- which is very different from looking at a Monet.”
Up to this point, olfactory art has been staged mostly in museums and alternative art spaces; after all, a gallery can’t sell a smell to match the sofa. People who follow perfume know that there are small houses like Soivohle, CB I Hate Perfume and Etat Libre d’Orange who make concept scents as personal fragrances already. And, as the world will soon know, Lady Gaga plan her own celeb-u-sent to be based on blood and semen, assuming that her idea makes it past the first marketing meeting at Coty. (It’s been done -- ELdO's "Secretions Magnifiques" -- already, anyway.) So I’m wondering what the new Center for Olfactory Art will really be about and who will fund it.
Any ideas, anybody?
The article “Scents and Sensibility,” by Barbara Pollack, appears in the current (March 2011) edition of “ARTNews (volume 110, Number 3). Quotes are directly from the article.
Sssshhhh...don’t tell anybody -- next week I’ll be starting a drawing for a brand-new full bottle of something new, gorgeous and very high-end; stay tuned!