The Art of Scent: 1889-2012



The Art of Scent, commissioned by the Museum of Art and Design in New York, is among the first museum exhibitions in the world to focus on the olfactory arts. The design of perfume has been overlooked historically as a significant creative practice. Yet, over the last century, the advent of new technology has led to unprecedented materials and processes. As a result, fragrance design has evolved from a parochial craft to a global discipline. The Art of Scent, which traces this development, focuses on twelve pivotal scents. In order to address the sense of smell, rarely introduced in the museum environment, the design eliminates all reference to the visual materials typically associated with perfume, most notably packaging and advertisements. Visitors enter a seemingly empty white gallery punctuated by a series of twelve sculpted wall alcoves. They are invited to lean into the wall, triggering the release of a scented stream of air; in addition to scent, the organic wall surface pulses with sound and ghostly text projections. A second smaller gallery offers a more social environment: a 13’ glass table anchors the room and supports 24 suspended vessels featuring the same twelve works in liquid form. Here, visitors are given the opportunity to compare and discuss their olfactory experiences, and to learn about the process of creating a fragrance. The Art of Scent, developed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Curator Chandler Burr, was exhibited in 2012.

  • Visitors leaning into the wall to experience a scented stream of air
    Visitors leaning into the wall to experience a scented stream of air
  • Section drawing of main gallery wall, through ‘dimple’, showing (from bottom up) power switch, air pump, scent cartridge, Arduino microcontroller, pyroelectric infrared motion sensor, loudspeaker.
  • Scent card dispenser
Project information
Location         Museum of Arts and Design, New York, United States
opening20th November 2012closed2nd March 2013
Principal-in-ChargeElizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio
Project LeaderKumar Atre and Ilana Altman
    Photography by Brad Farwell