central park smell
A Cooper Hewitt visitor takes a whiff of Sissel Tolaas’ Central Park exhibit.

Many artists have used Central Park as a subject or muse in their paintings and drawings. But few have attempted to capture the park’s smell.

“Smell designer” Sissel Tolaas did just that for an exhibit called “Beauty” at Cooper Hewitt, 2 East 91st street. The Norwegian artist wanted to capture the scent of decay in the park, according to Smithsonian magazine.

central park treesTo do this, she visited the park not in summer or spring, when the smell of flowers or plant life would be strongest, but in October, aiming to capture the more complex smells of flora as it begins to die. Using a customized way to collect scent molecules from the original smell source (what Tolaas describes as something akin to a “super-fine vacuum cleaner”), she spent about a week walking through Central Park gathering and sampling all different smells from the 1.3-square-mile expanse.

Once these samples were gathered, she brought them back to her “Re_Search Lab” in Berlin, where she and a team of researchers and developers break down and analyze the individual molecules, drawing out data on the types and quantity Tolaas collected. This lab, supported by chemical manufacturer International Flavours & Fragrances Inc., is where the artist has done much of her work since 2004, and contains her “smell archive” of more than 7,000 scents, captured within rows of airtight jars.

Learn more about the exhibit here. If you check out the exhibit, let us know how it smells!

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