A love letter to NYC’s Museum of Art and Design (and sniffing out the bizarre “Art of Scent” exhibit)

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When I read about an “Art of Scent” exhibit in which museumgoers get a whiff of various perfumes back in November, I wasn’t sure whether I should be intrigued by the concept or be wary of gimmicks.

But then I learned that the exhibit would be housed in the Museum of Art and Design. And then it all made sense.

Among New York City’s cultural giants, MAD is very modest in size, sitting humbly at the bottom of Columbus Circle between Eighth Avenue and Broadway. But this museum is probably my favorites in all of Manhattan. There, the six floors are all manageable in one afternoon, between two and three hours if you count a thorough examination of the well-curated gift store. There, each exhibit always offer a masterpiece that I love, even if I’m not inherently interested in the theme. And there, most of all, you’ll find the quirkiest, most radical, most bewitching collections of art.

Like an exhibit of necklaces, made from such curious materials as LED lights and gun triggers and pig intestines.

Or an exhibit on special effects manipulation in film and photography, showcasing 3D dioramas and the surreal images and animations created from them.

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Needless to say, an exhibit with perfume spritzers in the walls is right up MAD’s alley.

Stepping onto the fourth floor on a fine winter Sunday was somewhat disorienting. True to the NYT article that I’d forgotten about between the months, the hardwood floors were starkly empty, save a square of scrolling, glowing text projected from the ceiling. Along three walls, a row of twelve cavities sank into the wall, almost like pods in a science fiction vignette come to life. I watched two women hesitantly walked up to the first wall, exchanging glances before gingerly lowering their heads into the cavity.

When it was finally my turn, I’d leaned in just as carefully, cloying memories of department store ground floors making me wary. But all I felt was the light breeze of a spray–some sort of technology that released the fragrances for four seconds, I later learned. It was simply a whiff, enough for you to breathe in, not enough to stay with you beyond a few ephemeral seconds.