You don’t simply take a look at new work by the Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard; you plunge into his scabrous, unruly universe and hope for the best. Not one for the quiet encounter, the prodigious Melgaard has staged seven exhibitions in the past two years alone. In one of his dioramalike installations last year at New York’s Luxembourg & Dayan gallery, which was based on a novel he’d written, a naked male doll lay on a bed, stabbed with a hook; his show at the Ramekin Crucible gallery on the Lower East Side a few months earlier had included live, baby tigers in cages. The latest Melgaard extravaganza, “Ignorant Transparencies,” opens Saturday at Gavin Brown’s enterprise. It is Melgaard’s first solo outing with Brown whose frontier spirit is a match for his own. The sprawling show occupies every inch of the gallery and includes paintings, drawings, films, text and sculptures, all shot through with the artist’s usual blend of raunch, irreverence, existential humor—and horror. (Giant stills from Amour, the French film about an aging couple in decline, punctuate the show.)
Front and center will be Melgaard’s alter ego, the Pink Panther, appearing in various guises and sizes as both predator and imp. “When I was growing up in Norway, we weren’t allowed to watch Disney films,” he told me the other day as he was putting finishing touches on a mini forest strung with lights and alien figures. “But we got to watch the Pink Panther and I identified with him. He’s the uncool loser, a failure and he annoys people.” A burly man with piercing blue eyes, Melgaard, in person is soft-spoken and reserved. Not so the works on view.
A dystopian dollhouse, crammed with handcrafted knickknacks, miniature furniture, and all manner of bling, teems with weird dioramas populated by plastic dolls, plush animals and papier-mâché figures, some with their faces partially burnt. Melgaard’s interior design is a marvel of funky detail: In one room, a man points a gun to his head; the basement suggests a dungeon with assorted seats circling a chair with restraints. The scenarios were inspired by the last days of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, rising young artists who committed suicide days apart in 2007—and “by how the paranoia and fear and obsession of their last [drug addled] days became so overwhelming that it’s like everything takes on a magnitude of detail,” Melgaard said, sometimes speaking in the third person. “But then you begin to create your own paranoias and fears and bring in other characters so it doesn’t end up being like an illustration of something about them.”
The dollhouse was produced in collaboration with the Los Angeles-based special effects artist Gabe Bartalos, while Melgaard’s wall-mounted assemblages, layered with paintings, clothing and objects, were made in tandem with the young fashion design duo Eckhaus Latta. Their garments hang below deliriously painted faces, together forming an abstracted figure, and were designed on the basis of personality descriptions Melgaard sent to them. “It’s this idea of bringing in a third character,” Melgaard said of the outfits and other found objects applied to the canvas. “Sometimes it seems like it’s more of a character and less a painting and sometimes it’s the reverse.” Prepare to immerse yourself.
"Ignorant Transparencies" runs from September 14-October 26 at Gavin Brown's enterprise, 620 Greenwich Street in New York.
Photo: courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise.