Pretentious London exhibition wants you to smell and taste art

It was all a bit anti-climatic and confusing


The Tate Britain’s Sensorium is probably one of the most London exhibitions you’ll ever visit. The totally “immersive art experience” wants to make viewing art not just visual, but instead including all five senses.

Winner of something called the IK Prize 2015, the exhibition features four paintings from the Tate collection, allowing you to experience sounds, smells, tastes, and “physical forms inspired by the artworks” as you view them.

Has there ever been a more pretentious phrase than “in each room we want you to focus on the painting and let the sensory stimuli do the rest”? Apparently it is no longer sufficient just to look at paintings you don’t understand, but you now how to suffer headache inducing smells, put your hands in obscure boxes, and eat gritty chocolate in order to properly “enjoy” the art.

Unsuspecting visitors are also asked to put on a wristband that measures your sweat and heart rate as you look at each painting. The results are greedily collected after a questionnaire at the end by the University of Sussex, presumably to perform some sort of Freudian analysis on how excited I get when I eat grainy chocolate.

The exhibition is as exclusive as it is pretentious, with tickets released at 10am and 2pm, and only 4 people allowed in every twenty minutes.

The ticket that everyone wants

The ticket that everyone wants

A clearly disenchanted guide set us off with a painful “Ready, Steady, Go”. The rest of the exhibition was in shrouded in similar anticlimax.

The first of just four paintings, Interior II by Richard Hamilton was ridiculously introduced by the guide with: “you can smell the senses on the wall. They will give you sensations”. Four points on the wall, essentially strange smelling Febreze, made the room smell a bit like my nan’s house, and speakers played the sound of a woman walking down a hall.

Smells like gender steriotypes if you ask me.

Richard Hamilton, Interior II 1964, Tate, © The estate of Richard Hamilton Photo by Joe Humphrys/Tate Photography

The main problem was it was impossible to concentrate on any of the stimuli because any sane person would be far too busy looking forward to the chocolate they’d had heard so much about. It turns out you have to wait for the last painting for the chocolate, by which point we were so desperate for sustenance we didn’t even wait for the creepy voice to coax me with ‘eat, go on, eat’, like some sort of awkward dirty talk.

The chocolate, like the rest of the exhibition was confusing and disappointing. Benjamin, an Optometrist also at the event, told us: “It wasn’t even creamy chocolate, it was sort of grainy”.

The chocolate was a bit grainy.

The chocolate was a bit grainy.

But not everyone at the exhibition was as underwhelmed as us. Another punter named Jake said: “The taste one was really cool because it tasted more like mud when the sounds come up. It’s chocolate but it tastes like mud. Really tastes like mud.”

He was also particularly confused by once of the scents: “You know when you smell a chair, it’s a strange thing to smell, that smell was in the air and that was strange.”

Figure in a Landscape...and chocolate

Francis Bacon, Figure in a Landscape 1945, Tate. Purchased 1950, © Tate Photo by Joe Humphrys/Tate Photography

Explaining the concept of the whole experience, producer Tony Guillan said:  “The basic idea is what happens if you put sensory experiences in response to artwork, you look at artworks using all of the senses instead of text or being told or anything traditionally didactic like that.”

“It is definitely aimed to engage new visitors, a broader public perhaps, than a lot of other art projects do.

“But at the same time, it’s a qualitative form. We have to make something interesting, of a high standard.

“What it’s about from my perspective, and I’m sure the guys who developed it would agree, it’s about reminding people that museums and the artworks are there to be enjoyed sensually as well as intellectually.”

Yeah, something didactic like that.