Last Wednesday was Art Day, so Sluggo and I went to see Discovering Columbus, which was supposed to end on November 19 but has been extended through December 2. The friend who gave us the heads-up about the extension said it was because so many people missed seeing it on account of the Superstorm; I haven’t been able to confirm that, but as soon as she told us it was still on, I jumped online and got tickets for Wednesday morning.
The piece is easy to describe, but its effect is not simple. Tatzu Nishi has built a living room up in the air around the statue of Columbus in Columbus Circle. You climb up seven flights of stairs, and enter a hallway, and then turn into some rich guy’s living room where the 13-foot–tall statue is a knickknack on the coffee table. It’s delightful. A little girl who followed us inside dissolved in a fit of giggles when she saw it, the kind of little-kid giggles where you finally have to tip over onto a chair and kick your legs like a bug. Then her dad started trying to teach her to say “recontextualize.”
It’s cool to get to see the statue close up; it’s cool to see it in that context, which brings up thoughts of the 1% and private art and public art. The furniture is mostly from Bloomingdales, but the wallpaper was designed by Nishi himself, and features images of things he knew about America when he was growing up in Japan: Elvis, Marilyn, Michael Jackson, Coca-Cola, Malcolm X, Mickey Mouse. It made me think about how Columbus didn’t even know he was in America, he thought he was somewhere else. Everybody’s always discovering America, and nobody ever knows what it is. The big, flat-screen TV in the room is always on, set permanently to Fox News.
After we discovered Columbus, I went across the street to the Museum of Arts and Design for “The Art of Scent,” which had opened the day before. It is the best museum show I have ever smelled.
I was lucky to get there the day after the show opened—it really was delayed by the storm—before everything starts malfunctioning and they run out of the perfumes. When I was there, the only thing that wasn’t working was the player for the video interviews with some of the artists—no big deal. Also, I was there at 11:00, right when the museum opened, and when I walked into the main gallery, it was empty: empty of people, and empty of things. It looked like a big, white, empty room, until I noticed some faint depressions in the wall, about the size and shape of a row of urinals. This was the exhibit: 12 scents, arranged in chronological order, from Jicky (1889)—Jicky!—to Untitled (2010). You stick your head into one of the urinal-like devices, and a puff of scent envelopes your face. The sort of info that’s usually on a wall label is projected onto the wall next to where you’re standing, then disappears. The exhibits lead you through a sketch of developments in the art of fragrance—the introduction of synthetics and new molecules and new ways to construct olfactory compositions. Although all these scents were developed to be sold commercially, they are not treated as commercial products, they are presented as works of art.
In a smaller room off the main gallery, there’s a long table with bowls full of the 12 scents featured in the main exhibit. You’re invited to dip a scent strip in each one and then use a tablet to enter two words you think describe each. The words “hostile” and “unwearable” weren’t included, so I wasn’t able to say anything about “Untitled,” but I took a scent strip from each sample anyway. There were five slits along one wall, where cards were dispensed to show four mods in the development of Tresor, along with the final composition, and it was interesting to see how that happened and at what point I thought they should’ve quit while they were ahead.
I’m probably not the average perfume-wearing DJ, in that I would rather smell like the air from a bicycle tire (Bvlgari Black) or a stack of wet cardboard (Dzing!) than a flower. Even so, I think you should go to MAD for “The Art of Scent,” just because there’s never been anything like it. And because you’ll get to smell Jicky.