Big blogodrama right now about the exhibit that just opened in NYC, ‘The Art of Scent’ at the Museum of Arts and Design. It is curated by Chandler Burr, and the first museum exhibition dedicated to exploring the design and aesthetics of olfactory art. Burr’s high ambitions are impressive. The exhibit is accompanied by numerous activities that cover perspectives from inspiration to pedagogical seminars.
The discussion that has arisen is one that bounces of the very title – is perfume art? What do you think?
Having spent a couple of years with Art History as my major at university and Art Theory in particular, this kind of question makes my skin crawl and gives me goose bumps at the same time. The question “what is Art?” has after all been the source if many many discourses. I have to admit that according to my own perception of what the term incorporates, I do perceive perfume as Art. And I am not sure I see the value of saying that it isn’t. Why? Why should it not be art? How does that separation benefit the perfume, the perfumers or the perfume wearer? I don’t understand. What is perfume without the art part of the work? Formulas, proportions… But the result is olfactory poetry and sensation.
Regardless of how you feel about it, I do recommend you to visit the exhibit. We can draw the conclusion after all that it definitely provokes discussion. And the process of perfume creation is seldom open to the public.
‘The Art of Scent’ also takes the visitor on a journey to discover how perfume preferences and intentions have changed from Jicky by Aimé Guerlain to today’s perfumes. Apart from Jicky perfumes featured are Chanel No. 5 by Ernest Beaux, Aromatics Elixir by Bernard Chant, Angel by Olivier Cresp, Pleasures by Annie Buzantian and Alberto Morillas, Untitled by Daniela Andrier, Drakkar Noir by Pierre Wargnye, L’Eau d’Issey by Jacques Cavallier, cK One by Alberto Morillas and Harry Frémont, and Prada by Carlos Benaïm and Clément Gavarry.
It is noteworthy that The New York Times filed their article on the exhibit under “Art & Design”. You’ll find the article here
. Another really interesting article on “Art & Design” is this one
in Huffington Post where Mary Orlin gives all the reasons why this exhibit is relevant in a very stringent and insightful way.
Chandler Burr also had a prominent role at this year’s Pitti Fragranze (annual perfume fair in Florence) where much time was dedicated to highlighting the full value chain of perfume production. I like the influence that Mr Burr has on contemporary discourse. A nice example of his perspective can be found in this interview where he also talks about the part of the exhibit in NYC that allows visitors to discover a perfume without knowing which one it is. A great conversation, make a cup of coffee or tea, relax and enjoy it.
Let’s talk about another one of the animalistic perfume ingredients. Civet. Just like musk its value for the perfume industry lies in its ability to enhance fragrances and prolong the life of scents.
So now to the less romantic part.
Civet, or civetone as it is called at its more refined stage, is a substance taken from an animal called the African Civet – a nocturnal animal in sub-Saharan Africa. It eats most things, including snake and species that other animals find too poisonous to have for dinner. When moving around a territory the civet spreads a fluid to mark it. This fluid comes from the animal’s perineal glands and is the link between this African mammal and the perfume industry.
There is definitely a market for civet, which has led to numerous civet farms where animals are kept under dubious conditions only to serve as sources of gland secretion. One animal provides the owner with three to four grams per week.
Civet is one of the absolutely oldest perfume ingredients, particularly popular in France. It has a strong odor similar to musk and is used in very small quantities as a fixative that gives the fragrance depth and longer life. Chandler Burr compares it to using whole cream in soups and sauces.