Report from the second annual Art & Olfaction Awards

The Podium (photo Steven Rimlinger)

On April 17th, the Goethe Institut of Los Angeles hosted the second Annual Awards ceremony of the Institute for Art and Olfaction, bringing together an international arts community invested in exploring the role of scent within culture. The inaugurating event emphasized curatorial practice and collaboration, and this year’s event doubled down on that emphasis with a heightened focus on the plastic arts through the introduction of the Sadakichi Award for Experimental Scent — a new category aimed at recognizing innovative uses of scent beyond the bounds of commercial perfumery. As last year’s event made evident, the “Golden Pears” is less about competing and more about fostering interdisciplinary collaboration to propel olfactory art in new directions.

The Program (photo Steven Rimlinger)

The Opening Reception (photo Steven Rimlinger)

For the uninitiated, Saskia Wilson-Brown founded the Institute for Art and Olfaction in 2012 to explore the potential of scent within contemporary art and culture. Facilitating global scent-based projects while also spearheading historical, anthropological, and scientific research, the Institute still prizes the local community by frequently opening its doors to the public and developing programming with Los Angeles institutions such as The Getty Villa, The Huntington Library, and The Hammer Museum. Installations, lectures, training sessions, and cultural outreach converge through innovative practices such as the Tierra Del Fuego Beaver Project and the Manifest Destiny Billboard Project in addition to promoting research for the therapeutic treatment of PTSD and Alzheimer’s.

(photo Steven Rimlinger)

Consequently, given the wide scope of work that the Institute engages, the Annual Awards are divided into three categories: two of which focus on innovation in perfumery and one that encompasses installation or experimental practice. This year saw over 100 submissions from more than 25 countries, and the same blind, multiple-phase judging process as last year was commissioned to whittle the submissions down to 15 finalists. The finalists were announced earlier in the month at Esxence where, alongside Dr. Claus Noppeney of the Bern University of Applied Sciences, Saskia gave a talk on the role of professionalization in artistic perfumery.

Saskia Wilson-Brown (photo Steven Rimlinger)

As was the case last year, the event opened with cocktails and an opportunity for attendees to familiarize themselves with the final selections while chatting with the perfumers and artists. This provided the opportunity for people to discuss current trends and to learn about the larger projects of the Sadakichi Award. All the finalist’s perfumes were arranged on a table in the center of the foyer that drew a continual buzz until the Awards began. Local perfumer and competition judge Daniel Krasofski served perfume-centered drinks structured upon a blend of rose and strawberry extractions. Although I didn’t sample them myself, I did take a sniff and they certainly smelled like a composition.

Arriving Participants (photo Steven Rimlinger)

The Finalist Table (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Held in the theatre / screening room, the ceremony started with a presentation of the Institute’s goals (lots of great programming on the horizon), a brief talk on the current state of the industry by Lucky Scent founders, Franco Wright and Adam Eastwood (“oud,” sadly, is still a thing), and a detailed look into the submission and judging process as outlined by both horticulturalist Hank Jenkins and the Institute’s resident perfumer, Ashley Eden Kessler. Whereas last year’s event opted for a live on-stage drummer to provide snare rolls for each award, this year introduced noisemakers which were handed to the attendees and noise was certainly made. Given that Los Angeles is no stranger to award shows, the “Golden Pears” manages to undermine expected pretension, allowing style and humor to exist side by side. (As one of the most down-to-earth, stylish, and genuine people in L.A., Saskia’s influence in this is apparent.) Following introductory statements and overviews, it was time for the presentation of the awards.

Brent Leonesio (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Finalists in the Audience (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Introduced by perfumer Sarah Horowitz-Thran, the finalists in the Artisan category included Imaginary Author’s volatile A City on Fire, DS & Durga’s period piece, Foxglove, and House of Cherry Bomb’s boozy Tobacco Cognac. Adolfo Nodal and Daniel Krasofski presented the awards to the two winners from this category: the bracing vegetal-green Eau de CĂ©leri by Monsillage and the smoldering cedar and oak of Woodcut by Olympic Orchids. Upon receiving her award, Monsillage perfumer Isabelle Michaud emphasized consistency of process, noting the way her initial concept remained intact through the final stages of production. Olympic Orchids’ Ellen Covey was clearly thrilled to claim her well-deserved Golden Pear this year, demonstrating a similar consistency in that this evening marked Olympic Orchids’ second year as a final contender following last years’ fruity Blackbird.

Isabelle Michaud for Eau de CĂ©leri (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Ellen Covey for Woodcut (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Sculptor and Scent Bar manager Steven Gontarski announced the Independent category’s finalists, emphasizing the role of a “perfect collaboration” between the guiding concept of the line’s director and the perfumer hired to produce the concept. Finalists for this category included Olfactive Studio’s luminous leather, Ombre Indigo (by Mylène Alran), Ray Matts‘ heady Pashay (by Christophe Laudamiel), and Orto Parisi’s sandalwood bullhorn, Boccanera (by Alessandro Gualtieri). The two awards, presented by industry veteran Christina Fidducia and the ever-charismatic Brent Leonesio, went to Luca Maffei for his vibrant Black Pepper & Sandalwood for Acca Kappa and Jessica Hannah for her resinous leather offering, Skive for Canoe.

Jessica Hannah for Skive (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Luca Maffei for Black Pepper & Sandalwood (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Next, Institute CSO and physician Dr. KĂłan Jeff Baysa introduced The Sadakichi Award for Experimental Use of Scent category, discussing the ingenious ways that scent is currently being mobilized to further scientific research. Baysa emphasized the award’s namesake — Carl Sadakichi Hartmann — a poet and critic whose 1902 olfactory installation project was met with critical scorn. (The Institute recreated the event in January of 2014 with far greater critical reception.) Then artist Bettina Hubby presented the finalists: the ozonic-smelling Catalin (an ecocritical work that mapped data sets onto environmental smells); the peppery Matisse-inspired Chroma by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (in which synesthetic responses to colors were engaged); the notably funky-smelling Crime and Punishment (an immersive theatrical production that incorporated scent); and Paul SchĂĽtze’s edgy In Libro de Tenebris/Silent Surface (that explored the materiality of books). After reading a moving letter sent to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz from her family, and hysterically navigating a gauntlet of pronunciation hurdles, Hubby presented the award to the civet-and-smoke-smelling Famous Deaths — a project that deployed sound and scent to raise questions of collective memory through the lingering immortality of fame. 

Dr. KĂłan Jeff Baysa (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Bettina Hubby Snaps the Audience (photo Steven Rimlinger)

The Team Behind “Famous Deaths” (photo Steven Rimlinger)

Perfumer and entrepreneur Yosh Han delivered closing comments, implying that France can no longer be heralded as the hub of perfume world, repositioned instead as a global network with the Pacific Coast of the US operating as a particularly prominent center of activity (a sentiment shared by Christophe Laudamiel during his Osmothèque lecture). An after party at the Institute for Art and Olfaction followed the event that was open to the public and drew a crowd of new faces for cocktails, food, and scent discussion.

A personal note: one of last year’s finalists (although, criminally, it didn’t win), Bruno Fazzolari’s Lampblack, stood out to me as one of the most interesting and unique scents on offer. It has since continued to achieve critical acclaim, receiving high praise from Luca Turin and continues to garner discussion. Although sampling these scents in this environment isn’t ideal (I arrived an hour early to spend time with them and jot down notes), Eau de CĂ©leri, while not quite to my own personal taste, was a real standout, and I’m now interested in exploring the rest of Michaud’s line. While similarly at odds with my own style, House of Cherry Bomb’s Tobacco Cognac impressed me with its full-bodied tenacity and boozy warmth. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more from both of these lines soon.

Yosh Han’s Closing Remarks (photo Steven Rimlinger)

The Finalists (photo Steven Rimlinger)

The After Party (photo Steven Rimlinger)

The After Party (photo Steven Rimlinger)


The Winners in Full



Eau de CĂ©leri

by Monsillage
Perfumer: Isabelle Michaud
Montreal, Canada



by Olympic Orchids
Perfumer: Ellen Covey
Seattle, USA




Black Pepper & Sandalwood

by Acca Kappa
Perfumer: Luca Maffei
Treviso, Italy



by Canoe
Perfumer: Jessica Hannah
Austin, USA



Famous Deaths

Creative Team: Marcel van Brakel, Frederik Duerinck, Wander Eikelboom, Caro Verbeek
Venue: Museum of the Image (MOTI)
Breda, The Netherlands
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