For its inaugural exhibition as Red Bull Arts, the multi-purpose art venue in Chelsea has opened its doors for Bjarne Melgaard’s immersive reenactment of a clothing store, titled The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, and furthering the artist’s already well-documented engagements with pop culture, fashion and personal subjectivities over the course of his body of multimedia works. The Norwegian artist, who has enjoyed tremendous recognition in the U.S. in recent years, especially his psychedelic installation at the 2014 Whitney Biennial, has brought his own fashion line, which had its European debut at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo last November, to New York.
Following the extensive promotion of his jewelry collaboration with designer Bjørg Nordli-Mathlisen on February 11th at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, where tiny teacup piglets donned gem-studded necklaces that read raunchy expressions such as “Sociopath” or “Cheated for Cash”, the clothing line concludes the artist’s subversion of fashion industry and its coded notions of aesthetics, beauty, and politics. Draped over physically disproportioned mannequins in varying props and make-up that range from the bizarre to the outright absurd, Melgaard’s arrangements reverse the logic of getting dressed, transforming the body into an agent of performative aesthetics. Stripped from cultural, social or economic emblems, the style his distorted bodies encompass conveys the contemporary angst of Generation Y yet simultaneously brings to mind the imaginative and colorful experimentation of the adorned body frequently explored by Isa Genzken.
What Melgaard manifests through his tempestuous paintings and eerie installations here translates into stitched, patched, cluttered, and collaged pieces of fabric, accompanied by drawings and text testing the visitors’ limits for the understanding or comprehensive of self-expression and more broadly, personal identity. Despair-fueled, seemingly anti-gay slogans such as “Don’t Trust A Gay Man” or “Every Gay Man Is A Disappointment” accents his dystopian installations, while a back room video in which a puppet version of Melgaard sings and rants amidst stuffed toys and clothes. Escorting the visitors throughout their cruise around the store are generously-sized liquid lubricant dispensers, imbuing the experience with homoerotic undertones that also carry a farcical accent.
The exhibition opened its doors on February 14th with “The Purge”, a massive giveaway in which Melgaard distributed parts of his clothing collection, which he valued at approximately $500,000, at no charge, making a clear point by initiating a chaotic social experiment on consumerist culture and fashion for being its conspicuous echo on society. While hundreds of “shoppers” lined up in front of Red Bull Arts for free clothing, only a smaller fortunate group had the opportunity to enter the space and collect the freebies. Reminiscent of a Black Friday morning or an unforeseen natural disaster, the anarchic evening set the stage for the display of Melgaard’s fashion line, for which he collaborated with Babak Radboy and Avena Gallagher. The same aggressive consumerist urge for an object of desire is celebrated downstairs, where items from the fashion line are available for purchase in line with high fashion prices, leaving the audience to ponder the foundation of Melgaard’s critical stance.
Bjarne Melgaard: The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment is on view at Red Bull Arts New York through April 9, 2017.
— O.C. Yerebakan
Red Bull Arts [Exhibition Page]