With work currently on view at two separate New York locations, artist Bjarne Melgaard has taken the city by storm. Holding many art world enthusiasts in the palm of his hand, he’s done so by purging most of his wardrobe including new clothes from his fashion line at Red Bull Arts New York and bringing a selection of adorable piglets to Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in the Lower East Side. Exactly, who can resist free clothing or tiny pigs? Melgaard has a gift for tapping into what could be loosely described as the desperation of society. There is a yearning that we all carry whether we realize it or not, it is to take and to be entertained. Now one could argue that those two things are one and the same, but for this example, they will be viewed separately. At Gavin Brown’s downtown gallery, Melgaard has collaborated with jewelry maker Bjørg in several limited edition pieces first launched in Oslo at the Astrup Fearnley Museum. Ranging in prices of $150 through the mid-thousands, rings, necklaces, and other objects are made of sterling silver and 18 carat gold and many have been accented with gems including diamonds, emeralds and rubies. Displayed in decorative boxes hanging from the gallery ceiling, the jewelry, while perhaps the most accessible items in the gallery, play second fiddle to a selection of miniature pigs. The baby pigs, run around on bright pink astroturf in a fenced area located centrally in the gallery. For the duration of the exhibition, several will be wearing some of the jewelry pieces and a handler will be present, mostly for feeding and bathroom messes.
Concurrently at the newly named Red Bull Arts, the exhibition like –gems– has several facets. Commencing with PURGE, the artist allowed visitors access to a mass of his personal collection of designer fashion and high-end streetwear. Entrance was timed and those allowed in were permitted to grab as much as possible. New York Fashion Week in full swing, word on the street is that everything was gone in about fifteen minutes. Members of the press were given special access and Bjarne’s manager Tim Smith reported that even Linda Yablonsky and Diane Solway were seen leaving the venue with arms full of Melgaard’s clothing. Part of exhibition programming also included a dance party and puppet show with a Jim Henson puppet of Melgaard himself and an inside tip shared with me is that the puppet was handled by Cookie Monster’s puppeteer! At the dance party, Millennials milled around sipping Vodka and Redbull slushies accessed through one of three glory holes cut into the wall. Slated to continue until 2AM, by midnight the party was wall to wall people, with little room for actual dancing.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if Bjarne Melgaard is genuinely tapping into human desire or making fun of it. However, with an aesthetic all his own, he uses elements of reality –addiction, fashion, sex, and politics– cleverly making a stamp on our time both through accessibility and inaccessibility. Art is and always has been ripe with desire. It is something that people associate with high society, excess, beauty and history. Bjarne Melgaard is the Andy Warhol of our time. He is tapped into the elegance of decadence as well as the abject. He references our global, Internet heavy popular culture and removes the wifi. The access to his world, must be granted, must be waited for. Yet, similarly to what it is like to surf the web, once access has been given, chaos ensues. Keep all of your browser windows open, ignore the pop-up ads, and take a deep breath…this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Katy Diamond Hamer is the Founding Editor in Chief of Eyes Towards the Dove. She has been writing on contemporary art and culture since 2007. For more, follow her on Instagram @katyhamer