While walking through the Museum of Art and Design’s exhibition “The Art of the Scent (1889-2012)” my mind was flooded with memories of a nearly forgotten childhood friend, an ex-girlfriend and my deceased grandmother. It was a surprisingly powerful and complex experience, particularly because it was evoked in a nearly empty gallery by an invisible art form—scent. It’s often cited that smell is the sense most associated with memory (both are processed by the brain’s limbic system), and the iconic fragrances exhibited in “The Art of the Scent” are likely to take visitors on their own private jaunts down memory lane. But it might not lead where they expect.
Like any art form or design discipline, the creation of a scent is the result of experimentation and innovation. Yet, perfume and cologne are rarely appreciated as the artfully crafted designs they are. “The Art of the Scent” is the first major museum exhibition to recognize and celebrate scent as a true artistic medium rather than just a consumer product. The 12 exhibited fragrances, chosen by curator Chandler Burr to represent the major aesthetic schools of scent design, include Ernest Beaux’s Modernist Chanel No.5 (1921); the Postmodern Drakkar Noir (1982)by Pierre Wargnye ; and Daniela Andrier’s deconstructed fragrance Untitled (2010). Perhaps most significantly, the exhibition begins with the first fragrance to incorporate synthetic raw materials instead of an exclusively natural palette, thereby truly transforming scent into an art: Jicky (1889), created by Aimé Guerlain. Unfortunately, this fragrant historiography will initially be lost on the average visitor because while scent may indeed be the best sense for provoking memory, it is the worst sense for conveying intellectual content. When we smell something—good or bad—our reaction is typically an automatic or emotional response. Such a reaction doesn’t lend itself particularly well to critical analysis. The greatest challenge facing Burr, who wrote the “Scent Notes” column for the New York Times and the book The Emperor of Scent, was to get visitors to move beyond their initial emotional responses and memories and to think critically about scent design. And the greatest challenge facing exhibition designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro was to figure out how to present an invisible art.
The Maurizio Cattelan exhibition ALL ended its run at the Guggenheim last weekend and I wanted to share some quick thoughts about the show, especially in light of what seems to have been a mostly negativereception from some of our more prominent art critics. But more than that, I’m also hoping that by posting what is little more than a few ill-informed observations jotted down in a notebook about an artist whose work I had never seen before stepping into Frank Lloyd Wright’s atrium late last year, I’ll instigate a bit of a sea change for Life Without Buildings. Basically, I want it to be more fun. After years of hard work and school, writing architectural history has actually become an honest-to-god, bill-paying job and now more than ever I need a place to experiment with different forms of criticism and documentation, to work out new projects, to make mistakes, and to write about things that are little less serious. This will be that place. So that’s happening.
Standing in front of the concrete blocks on a warm June morning, I found myself wondering if they were the ruins of a forgotten city – or maybe a fragment of this city’s forgotten history. The fractured masonry corner before me couldn’t truly be a ruin, though. It was perfectly crafted – too perfectly crafted. Its edges were precisely stepped and though it stood in the middle of City Hall Park, no vines or weeds had broken through the flawless mortar. What kind of ruin doesn’t age or weather? Yet there it was, as if it had always been there. In fact, when I looked at it, it seemed as if I couldn’t not remember it being there. But beyond that there was another feeling; something tugging at the edges of my consciousness, challenging me to look closer, to remember something else.
For almost 10 years, artist Richard Galpin has been carefully excavating cities; revealing their hidden geometries and composition. The removal of buildings from their context and vice versa makes Galpin a perfect fit for the virtual pages of Life Without Buildings. His technique could be described as a form of subtractive painting. Like some bizarre combination of plastic surgeon and urbanist, Galpin artfully takes his scalpel to photographs of urban landscapes, slicing and cutting until the image loses its coherence; replaced instead by what he describes as “reconfigured cluster of partially erased cubo/constructivist form.” (A time-lapse video of this painstaking process is availble on his website.) In looking through the work on his website, it’s clear that Galpin’s work has evolved from mysterious landscapes floating in the void to fractured, designed abstractions. Curated erasure. Fractalized urbanism. Elevation, an exhibition of Galpin’s recent work is now on view at the Hales Gallery in London. Continue reading “Selective Demolition: The Work of Richard Galpin”
Olafur Eliasson’s Yellowfog debuts today in Vienna on the facade of its new home, Verbund’s Am Hof building. Yellowfog was originally installed at the Jewish Museum in New York way back in 1999, where it was meant to evoke the Icelandic artist’s homeland, but I prefer to think that the building is slowly—and beautifully—dissolving in some sort of fantastical toxic haze. No stranger to architectural collaboration and intervention, Eliasson has previously worked with architects such as David Adjaye and Snohetta.