The inherent tension between the dynamism of the world’s greatest city and the refuge offered by its most luxurious hotel animates Scent Portrait, New York, New York No. 1.

While sight and scent are the primary senses activated by the work, Scent Portrait creates allusions to each of the senses and – like Mondrian’s totemic grids – captures the visceral pulsating, syncopated rhythms of
an effervescent city while simultaneously providing an inchoate connection to a deeper world, the more natural world –
the granite base on which all such activity happens.

Like the Cubists who created two-dimensional simulation through painterly rendering and modeling, the Scent Portrait interrogates dimensionality, but through other (more radical) means. The Bio-Cork – burned, sculpted, and texturized by hand – is itself a dimensional element denoting and invading physical space, inviting the viewer into its multiple designed forms, exploring shape and shadow, a newly limned architectural urbanity.

The custom-designed scent of handpicked and distilled plants and flowers is imbued in the sculpted cork through a laborious bathing process over many days. It projects outward and inward, creating a new layer of illusion, a deeply immediate and immersive dimension. These combined visual and sensory forces act together to pin the viewer to a specific moment in time, capturing the enduring spirit and imagination of “the city that never sleeps” – and its charismatic denizens.

The intimate connection between individual and crowd mirror the tension between sculpture and painting (portraiture), the sensory pleasure of looking mixed (alchemically) with the deep satisfaction of smelling that becomes an intentional synesthetic swirl of deep feeling. Each individual piece of sculpted cork has been affixed to the hand-painted surface using organic fixative and plant varnishes in a simulacrum of imagined depths and illusions, much like the early collages of Braque and Picasso, who also played with fields of depth and perception. More recently, the monochromatic wooden “wall” pieces of the pioneering American sculptor Louise Nevelson, serve as an immediate inspiration and reference point for the Portrait.

The Scent in the Portrait adds a radically new and original layer, recalling the original organic base on which the city rests, reaching back to its earliest inhabitants, the Lenape peoples, then American colonists, waves of immigrants, global transplants, and the newly itinerant who continue to roam its canyons, finding refuge in its natural spaces and man-made crevices.

This vivid sense of olfaction becomes a true protagonist of the work, interrogating the viewer, romancing her, contemplating her, reflecting him.

The dry almost acetic nature of the work belies its true voluptuousness and sensuality – suggesting, once again, the true nature of its volatile botanical elements, how fragile the natural world is its inevitable excitability – a world that, like the chameleon itself, is always changing and challenging, all the time.

Michelle K. Gagnon
Antonello Patella
David M. Gross