Common scents: Pamela Rosenkranz’s latest exhibition is right on the nose

Three beige paintings hanging on a white wall
Pamela Rosenkranz's show at Sprüth Magers Berlin starts with her new series of paintings, focusing on the evolutionary process of tabby cat patterns. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers
(Image credit: TBC)

Somewhere in the galleries at Sprüth Magers in Berlin a cat is mewing. As you enter Pamela Rosenkranz’s new exhibition — through a portal-like room filled with a strange blue light — you won’t know it, but you’re being sprayed with a primal odour. It’s a scent that might make you feel more affectionate towards the feline species.

‘I have always liked cats and find them very beautiful. I grew up with cats, and my own cat was giving birth to her kittens under my bed – in the Lego box!’ muses artist Pamela Rosenkranz, who is rather fond of felines. ‘In terms of creating art in relation with cats the spark was lit when I learned about a parasite called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a peculiar, relatively unknown parasite, despite its widespread appearance. About one in three people carry the parasite responsible for the condition toxoplasmosis, which can lead to finding the smell of cat pheromones more attractive.’

An empty room illuminated in blue

Rosenkranz uses light to create a supernatural version of a ‘high noon blue’ that triggers sensual stimuli from the surrounding environment

(Image credit: TBC)

It’s not the first time the Swiss artist has been inspired by this perturbing parasite — her recent exhibit at the Fondazione Prada in Milan also addressed it. In Berlin, ‘She Has No Mouth’ further develops the connections between humans and cats, wild and domesticated, through sound, colour and smell. That smell refers to ‘a cat-like smell synthesised in France, where more than half the people are infected, under the name Civetone, and it’s a prominent component in Chanel No 5’.

Civetone is now found in many household products, Rosenkranz explains, including shampoo and washing detergent, and even ‘as a flavouring agent in food’. You might not pick up the odour as you walk around the gallery, as its hard to distinguish from the perfumes and colognes of other visitors.

Rosenkranz’s olfactory work is a gradient comprised of ‘all the perfumes available that have a dominant interpretation of the cat pheromone component in them’. She explains, ‘One of these fragrances is “Obsession for Men” by Calvin Klein, which apparently the jaguar and other wild cats are so attracted to that it is used to capture and count cats in the wild.’

Dusty, earthy tones of red, pink, taupe and terracotta, as well as different renditions of fur patterns in a new series of layered paintings contribute to a sub-Saharan atmosphere, while a large rose-coloured circle of sand in the middle of the space recalls a desert plane. There is of course — as in all of Rosenkranz’s work — an offbeat sex appeal to the whole thing, from the assimilation of animal scent and perfume, sensual skin and fur motifs, consumer culture and cat aesthetics.

Just as in the animal world, the show’s effect is more intuitive, pawing at our instincts. Rosenkranz adds, ‘Our daily lives are increasingly exposed to effects that we have not much awareness of, and it’s these potentially very powerful hidden forces that I’m interested in.’

Two paintings on a white wall, between two entrances to a blue-lit room

The works probe the sensory stimulations that have triggered 'hard-wired' responses in humans since prehistoric times

(Image credit: TBC)

Painting of a tabby cat pattern

Pattern Tension (Partean), 2017

(Image credit: TBC)

Six paintings depicting tabby cat patterns. They hang on a white wall with two arched windows

In her new series, Rosenkranz replicates skin tones as well as the sand and earth hues native to the sub-Saharan African landscape where cats first hunted

(Image credit: TBC)

Six paintings hang in a gallery with a blue illuminated circle at one end of the room

'She Has No Mouth' builds on Rosenkranz’s recent work Infection, which was on the subject of toxoplasmosis

(Image credit: TBC)


‘She has no mouth’ is on view until 17 June. For more information, visit the Sprüth Magers website


Sprüth Magers
Oranienburger Strasse 18
10178 Berlin


Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.