Lausanne – Even for a figure as esoteric as Andy Warhol, it is surprising to discover that the artist kept what he termed a ‘Permanent Smell Collection’. The need for this, as detailed in his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), was the realisation ‘that he had to have kind of a smell museum, so certain smells wouldn’t get lost forever.’ In 2012, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City held an exhibition – that certainly would have had a Warhol stamp of approval – called The Art of Scent. The intent of the curation was to do something hardly done in a museum setting before: treat aroma as if it was an artwork itself, inviting visitors to experience different fragrances diffused through indentations in the space’s walls.
Now, a growing number of museums and exhibitions are coming around to testing our pre-supposed hierarchy of senses: the bottom line is, the focus doesn’t always have to be on what we see. That’s not to say that Lausanne’s Musée de design et d’arts appliqués contemporains chose to neglect the visual aspect of the exhibition making during its Nez-à-Nez Contemporary perfumers show. In fact it decided to bring smell centre stage precisely by playing on its relationship with sight, utilising tangible material to heighten the olfactory experience. Unlike MAD’s exhibition, the show's goal was to transcend dimensions, and render the invisible art form physical.
To do so, MUDAC brought on the London-based studio Glithero to create six bespoke installations designed over six rooms each meant to express a different tendency in contemporary perfumery. The curators, together with the Paris-based olfactory magazine Nez, selected 13 perfumers – including names such as Dominique Ropion and Isabelle Doyen – taking three fragrances from the portfolio of each. They then challenged Glithero-founders Sarah van Gameren and Tim Simpson to devise presentations that could display the perfumes without using their original bottles. But, as a reference to perfume’s typical home, van Gameren and Simpson were still asked to work with glass, and to pay special attention to the material’s interaction with light.
Glithero’s work does, in a subtle way, challenge sensory associations visitors may already have with certain aromas