Should we have to smell and hear art to enjoy it? We went to Tate's Sensorium to find out...

7 September 2015
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2 minute read

Paintings are no longer only the preserve of the eyes: now, just as with everything else in London (drinking, burgers, Spaced-inspired theatre, zoos), they are “experiential.” And for all our Time Out-mocking, that’s possibly not such a bad thing.

Hot on the heels of the opening of the National Gallery’s stunning Soundscapes show arrives the unveiling of this year’s Tate IK Prize, Sensorium, which offers viewers the chance to smell, hear and even taste paintings to enhance their overall appreciation and understanding of the works. The prize is awarded to a team of designers who can come up with an idea that uses technology to help people discover works in the Tate’s collection. Last year, the winner was design studio The Workers’ nocturnal robots but this year’s winning team, Flying Object, has worked with a multidisciplinary team including a chocolatier, a lighting designer and a scent expert to spotlight four paintings and force us to see them in very new ways.

Visitors are led round in groups of four, navigating a darkened space and given specific instructions for each piece. For all the gimmickry, there’s something rather wonderful: not, perhaps, in the barely-there scents or strange, ritualised chocolate feeding at the end, but in the forced contemplation of the works. It feels a little daft to shake plastic shapes as we gaze at David Bomberg’s In the Hold, or sniff the walls as we wander round Richard Hamilton’s Interior II, but simply being forced to use our other senses and wait in one place makes us see new things in the work and interact with it in a wholly more involved way than we otherwise would have.

The most powerful piece for us was the merging of sound with sight in John Latham’s Full Stop. We weren’t previously aware of the piece, but the powerful, even frightening soundscapes married with the imposing black mark makes for a very intense few moments. It’s points like these that crystallised what Flying Object surely aimed for: creating experiences for the viewer that give the works a profound significance, where we may have previously wandered past them. But ultimately what the show teaches us is to slow down, to really look, and to look within ourselves, too, about how we can best interpret the works. Maybe one day we’ll be able to do that without headphones or chocolates or scent vents; but until we can, shows like Sensorium are certainly no bad thing.


Installation shot of the IK Prize 2015: Tate Sensorium with Francis Bacon’s Figure in a Landscape, 1945
© Tate
Photo by Joe Humphrys/Tate Photography


Installation shot of the IK Prize: Tate Sensorium with John Latham’s Full Stop, 1961

© Tate
Photo by Joe Humphrys/Tate Photography

Presented by Nicholas Logsdail and Lisson Gallery, London 2005

© John Latham Estate, courtesy Lisson Gallery,


Installation shot of the IK Prize 2015: Tate Sensorium with Richard Hamilton’s Interior ll 1964

© The estate of Richard Hamilton
Photo by Joe Humphrys/Tate Photography

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Emily Gosling

Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.

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