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Smells at an Exhibition
Olfactory art isn’t always a grift
Writing in Art Forum, the monthly publication catering to collectors and sophistos, Sarah Lookofsky reviews “RE”, an exhibit of olfactory art by Sissel Tolaas now showing at the Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo, Norway.
Lookofsky gamely attempts to describe the exhibit’s physical displays and smells, but more often than not seems baffled by the identity and intended meaning of the specific scents. Nevertheless, she lards her brief review with jargon (“pandemic habitus”, “locating the affective within the institutional”, “museological exegesis”, “mimesis”) to let the reader know that she—and also presumably the artist—must be taken seriously.
I’ll offer a simpler reason for Lookofsky’s bafflement: Sissel Tolaas is a humbug and an olfactory grifter. She has been hoodwinking art critics and the paying public with her brand of mumbo-jumbo for years, and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously on her own terms, much less as an avatar of olfactory art. (Too harsh? I think not. You can review my evidence here.)
If you’d like to sample olfactory art by creative and serious people, a better bet is to visit Art Keller, a scent art gallery in Manhattan’s Chinatown. It’s run by Andreas Keller, a scientist whose interest turned to smell when he was a post-doc in Leslie Vosshall’s lab at Rockefeller. Keller has published numerous scientific papers on smell as well as the book Philosophy of Olfactory Perception. [Full disclosure: I was a co-author on one of his papers, and I know many of the perfumers and scent artists featured in his gallery.]
Exhibitions organized by Keller are often built on specific themes. He invites works by established perfumers and olfactory artists of the non-humbug variety. Examples include Scents of Exile by Brian Goeltzenleuchter, and Suspensio: An Interruption in Time by Josely Carvalho. Those of you with an Untapped New York Insiders membership can get a free guided tour of the gallery on January 29th.