We still have an hangover, art and otherwise, from Saturday night's gallery hopping marathon, but luckily we were still upright and mostly cognizant by the time we made it to 500X where whiffs of Chris Tennen and Scott Hilton's collaborative installation, "The Society for Olfactory Preservation," wafted among the gallery's gritty wood and concrete.
Unusual, unexpected and brilliant, Tennen and Hilton's interactive brainchild is installed in the downstairs project space through February 5. The exhibition consists of roughly 10 small boxes -- as pictured to the right -- set on spartan wooden stands, beckoning the viewer, well, smeller, to gently press down for a quick breath of odoriferous history. Adorned with white placards tersely describing the aroma within, each box contains an amusing artistic, philosophical or literary reference, such as "The Madeleine of Marcel Proust" or "The Hemlock of Socrates."
Amusingly meta, the installation is tied together with a posted manifesto by the fictive "Society for Olfactory Preservation," which claims that the smells offered are originals, painstakingly curated for decades and centuries, preserving not merely smells, so much as the emotional and cognitive weight that oft-artistically ignored sense bears. As the exhibition tacitly suggests, the greatest art elicits a Proustian "involuntary memory," nimbly creating a profoundly personal subconscious bond between a piece and its viewer.
Clever in both inception and execution, we don't think that "The Society for Olfactory Preservation" can be improved upon. However, we would love to see more, and though it might prove a challenge, logistically, to expand the collection (how does one cleanse one's olfactory "palate," after all?), we have offered our top 10 suggestions of dead (and some not-so-dead) icons who could supplement the already fabulous installation.
Leo Tolstoy -- cabbage, wool and lengthy despair
Willie Nelson -- ethanol and Grand-Daddy Kush
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- a Birmingham jail sprinkled with Holy Spirit shavings
Frederick Nietzsche -- the "smell of entrails" and bat shit
F. Scott Fitzgerald -- the ashes of gin-soaked American dollars
Andy Warhol -- Estee Lauder "Beautiful" and Campbell soup
Gertrude Stein -- a rose and a rose and a chou à la crème
Raymond Carver -- single-malt scotch, Marlboro Reds and trailer court pine
Bill Clinton -- a Cuban cigar and ... You know where this is going.
"The Society for Olfactory Preservation" runs through February 5 at 500X Gallery. Smell it on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. or during the week by appointment.
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