Smelling the coffee – the early rise of olfactory art
One of the earliest examples in art history where smell is used as a medium can be dated
back to 1938, more precisely during the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, the
Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. Amongst hundreds of works was a collaborative
installation/design by Austrian artist Wolfgang Paalen and Marcel Duchamp, where the
scent of roasted coffee filled the air and expanded the sensorial experience of the scenery
that also included ferns, grasses and a pond with water-lilies.
(photo suggestion: Surrealist Exhibition installation photo or invite photo)
Interestingly enough, Duchamp was already at this point acting against what he referred to
as retinal art – art that was meant to please the eye. His critical approach and search for
alternative means of artistic expressions for sure made a mark. One of those quite literally
in the form of several chess sets.
Sense the next move – a Fluxus take on chess
During the 1960s, Japanese Fluxus artist Takako Saito created a series of chess sets. The
works were made on request by Lithuanian American artist and founding member of
Fluxus, George Maciunas, who, as Marcel Duchamp, was an enthusiastic chess player,
and the chess pieces was to some extend thought of as a playful homage to the man who
had said that “all chess players are artists”.
Saito’s series of artist’s multiples include amongst others Sound Chess, Spice Chess and
Weight Chess. The rules of the game are the same as for any traditional game of chess,
but using these sets, the players have to sharpen other senses than the one of sight for
being able to follow the rules. As an example, players engaging with the Spice Chess (
where each piece is a small container filled with a particular spice ) has to fully make use
of the olfactory sense to identify each single piece, recognize their positions and move
Besides several other themes, Takako Saito’s collection of chess works clearly questioned
the primacy of vision, and compelled people to consider the value of other senses and the
experiences that comes with them.