Belle Haleine – The scent of art
11 February – 17 May 2015
As a biochemical sense, smell is apperceptual and is one of our oldest sensory capacities. It can be directly experienced, as our perception of odor is directly linked with the limbic system. As an important sensory characteristic our sense of smell is closely associated with recollection and with the rating of certain experiences, and is designed to integrate information about past events into the present moment. Therefore, scents evoke emotions, memories and associations that are subjectively and culturally shaped to widely varying degrees and are also subject to historical transformations.
In a first room, allegorical depictions of odor from the Baroque period form the prologue to the exhibition. Alongside these, works and documents by such important artists of the 1920s as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, or Carlo Carrà are placed; in these, breathing and the volatile phenomenon of scent is taken up in different ways. With the commencement of the avant-garde at the start of the 20th century the relationship between fine art and the sense of smell became current. The artists of the 20th century strove for a synaesthesia, an interplay of multiple sensory inputs. Raoul Hausmann, the Dada artist and poet, was also later convinced that our thinking is strongly influenced by the five senses. In his book La Sensorialité Excentrique of 1969 he demanded a sensory capacity that is to extend beyond anything that was here before and thereby ring in an age of a new civilization. As the door was opened onto an artistic work concept from the 1960s onwards that sought a change of direction towards the everyday and thereby also direct contact with the beholder of art, this attitude gained in importance. Artists of Tinguely’s generation, from the milieu of the Nouveaux Réalistes, Pop Art, Conceptual Art or Fluxus, attempted besides optical perception to appeal to as many other senses of the beholder as possible and to place these at the forefront.
Entirely contrary emotions are conjured up on experiencing the early video and sound installation Il Vapore (1975) by American artist Bill Viola. The visitor is enveloped by the intense odor of eucalyptus vapor, which fills the whole room. Based on the overlapping of various planes of time and reality the artist depicts the transformation of the various physical aggregate states of water, from the liquid substance to the gaseous ephemeral steam. With this Viola points out the meditatively transcendental quality of water, the universal substance.
Many of the questions that preoccupy us in connection with the sense of smell in today's era are also contained in the video work, consisting of ten interviews, Smell You – Smell Me (1998) by Greek artist Jenny Marketou, which is presented at the center of the exhibition.
A diverse supporting program, such as, for example, Basel's first Pheromone Party (St. Valentine's Day, February 14, 2015), an interdisciplinary symposium (April 17 and 18, 2015) featuring renowned international speakers from humanities and sciences, lectures, guided tours, special family Sundays, and workshops (including with Sissel Tolaas on April 19, 2015) will accompany the exhibition at Museum Tinguely. The exhibition has been devised by Annja Müller-Alsbach.