It’s an art piece at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But not by an artist on display. Instead it’s by someone on the museum’s staff, the Senior Library Assistant, Rachael Morrison.
And how did I hear about this? From MoMA’s official Twitter feed, which sent me to more on their website. The museum, in other words, happily promotes this piece.
Maybe some people think smelling books is, well, weird. But I smell them myself. And many other people do. One of my pleasures, when I was a kid, and bought used science fiction books (in the many used bookstores that then were on Fourth Avenue, in Manhattan), was how they smelled: crunchy, well-seasoned.
I can’t help thinking that no orchestra (or none that I know of) would have promoted this work, if one of their staff members did it. First, while installation art and performance art are perfectly mainstream these days in the art world, they (and their musical equivalents) just aren’t known in classical music. If we were an art museum, we’d only be showing painting and sculpture. So on an orchestra’s website, “Smelling the Books” would seem out to lunch.
But, more profoundly, orchestras don’t normally think of their staff members doing creative work. They’re hierarchical instituions, and in their artistic hierarchy, nobody has any place except the musicians, the music director, and the very few people who make up the artistic administration. As a rule, you just wouldn’t talk about music with the development people (the fundraisers), or with the telemarketers.
Which is a shame. I’m glad MoMA doesn’t seem to think that way. (Though once someone who worked on film there told me he felt marginalized by the people from higher-ranking visual arts.) If orchestras valued and fostered creativity in all of their staff, I think they’d play better, too.
art of this kind just isn’t well known in the classical music world,