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Museum of Arts and Design Explores Fragrance Art

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At the Museum of Arts and Design’s new Center of Olfactory Art, visitors might soon be able to smell the next great masterpiece.

Dedicated to exploring scent as an art form, the museum's new center will function more as a curatorial department within the museum than as separate entity. Chandler Burr, former fragrance critic at The New York Times, has been hired as the nation’s very first fragrance art curator. 

“This is a medium that has an astonishingly rich palate,” said Burr. “As a matter fact, I think it’s possibly a more interesting palate in terms of raw materials than any other artistic medium that I know.”   

Burr says that fragrance is in every way the aesthetic and stylistic equal of other commercial art forms, like painting, architecture, and film. “Some of them are cheap and terrible and very badly done. Some are exquisite, beautifully executed and astonishing,” he said. 

How will museum visitors experience the invisible art of fragrance? Burr says that they will “smell everything.” “In the first exhibition we’re doing in November 2011, there will be a pathway that will curve around the sides of the museum walls. At points along the wall, you will press a button and the scent—the work of art—will come out of a small opening, and you will lean in and smell it.”

Burr predicts that the center’s exhibits will permanently change the way visitors think about common, everyday scents. “It will be as if you had the sense of sight but had never really looked at anything before,” Burr said. “You will come out, and metaphorically speaking, your eyes will be opened.”