Installation view: Bjarne Melgaard “A New Novel” at Luxembourg & Dayan, New York. All images by Jennifer Lindblad for Art Observed unless otherwise noted.
The door of Luxembourg & Dayan’s historic townhouse on Upper East Side—the second most narrow in New York City— opens to a visual assault: sequined dolls wearing Proenza Schouler-designed evening gowns and Pink Panther figurines perch atop neon-colored piles of books just narrow enough to snake through, violent sexual vignettes are played out by clay figures, and 1970s-style wallpaper and overlapping area rugs serves as a rough-and-tumble backdrop. All comprise Bjarne Melgaard’s twisted vision for “A New Novel.”
Exploring themes of sex, love, and violence, Melgaard’s work searches for meaning from a place of extreme loneliness and degradation. The novel that serves as the basis for the exhibition is loosely autobiographical; it tells the story of an artist in New York City who endures a tempestuous relationship with a doorman. Although some scenes in the novel are illustrated through the use of clay dolls (with the Pink Panther acting as a stand-in for the artist), the exhibition is not intended as a direct correlation to the novel. Rather, it represents the expansion of the narrative and a backdrop for some of its themes to play themselves out.
Born in Sydney, Australia to Norwegian parents, Bjarne Melgaard completed his artistic education in the early 90s at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, the National Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo, Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, and the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. Recent solo exhibitions include the Institute of Contemporary Art, London and Ramiken Crucible Gallery, New York (2012); Lars Bohman Gallery, Stockholm (2011, 2007); Maccarone Gallery, New York (2011); Bergen Kunstmuseum, Bergen, Norway (2010); Reena Spaulings, New York (2008); Greene Naftali Gallery, New York (2008). In 2011 he represented Norway in the Venice Biennale. The artist currently lives and works in New York.
At the exhibition’s preview, associate director of Luxembourg & Dayan Alissa Bennett related how she first met the artist. In 2002, she contacted him about the possibility of working together; his response took the form of “strange, aggressive emails” from various aliases and personas. Ms. Bennett was taken with the method and eventually the two became collaborators.
The term “collaboration” features frequently in Melgaard’s productions, and “A New Novel” is no exception. Working with a large cast of leading animators, craftspeople and designers, the show transforms the gallery into an immersive setting for the novel’s themes. Giving his collaborators little direction, Melgaard allows various elements of projects to take on their own character. A notable contribution to this exhibition is with Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, who designed the evening gowns worn by the dolls, as well as three outfits for the artist himself.
Left: one of Melgaard’s untitled paintings. Right: A design by Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. Image courtesy the New York Times.
Detail: Proenza Schouler-designed dress clothing one of the life-size dolls in “A New Novel.”
After what the exhibition’s press release dubs the “surrealist garage sale” aesthetic of the entry level, the viewer progresses upstairs to smaller vignettes encased in shoe-box style mini-theaters. Here, figures lounge in the squalor of bathrooms, living rooms and bedrooms. Drug paraphernalia mingle with harmless-seeming Marimekko mugs, skin care products, and art theory books. The second floor also houses a video piece created together with animator Gabe Bartalos, who has previously worked with artist Matthew Barney on his Cremaster Cycle series. It is a sort of “snuff film” reminiscent of Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg‘s work, where clay figures enact S&M scenarios.
After the disturbing chaos of the first and second floors, the third floor offers a visual respite. Vibrant paintings installed on warm orange walls inevitably invoke William Blake’s 1794 verse “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright / In the forests of the night.” If this poem comes to mind it should come as no surprise that previously this year, Melgaard invited live snow tiger cubs to inhabit his exhibition “IDEAL POLE” at the Lower East Side gallery Ramiken Crucible.
Installation view: “IDEAL POLE” (2012). Image courtesy Ramiken Crucible.
Detail of live snow tiger cubs occupying “IDEAL POLE” (2012). Image courtesy Ramiken Crucible.
The paintings, 13 in total, are simultaneously calming and seductive. Further extending the notion of flexible readership, the paintings are installed on hinges, opening to reveal the last chapter of A New Novel scrawled across the back of the canvas in black charcoal. In this way, Melgaard involves the viewer/reader in an activation of the act of readership, transforming it from a fixed notion into something participatory. Although it is his first novel available commercially in English, A New Novel is not Melgaard’s first foray into literary culture: earlier this year he published a novella entitled Alarma! Boyfriends.
“A New Novel” is on view at Luxembourg & Dayan at 64 East 77th Street through December 22nd, 2012.
On the third floor, associate gallery director Alissa Bennett (left) and Melgaard’s collaborator on the animated video, Gabe Bartalos (center) introduce the exhibition.
– J. Lindblad. All photos by J. Lindblad unless otherwise noted.
Exhibition Page [Luxembourg & Dayan]
Graphic Material: A Proenza Schouler/Bjarne Melgaard Mashup [NYT]
Bjarne Melgaard: ‘Ideal Pole’ 2012 [NYT]
Bjarne Melgaard: A House to Die In [ICA London]
Bjarne Melgaard: A House to Die In [Artforum]
A Real Cut-Up: Bjarne Melgaard’s Novella Is Shocking, Gory, Thought-Provoking and Hilarious [NY Observer]