New York-based Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard is a prolific, profane, and much admired polymath. In addition to paintings, drawings, films, furniture, and objects, he has created a thicket of novels. These exploded accretions of words and ideas, with their fevers of graphic violence, explicit sadomasochistic sex and unexpected poignancy, do not adhere to the conventions of dignified narrative. For Melgaard, the novel is a site where ideas both good and bad can proliferate freely, and where attention follows the upended logic of what actually takes place instead of what ideally should happen. Melgaard steadfastly refuses to locate the frontier between reality and fantasy. “I am more interested in telling a good story than a boring truth,” he has said.
Beginning November 9, 2012, Luxembourg & Dayan will open the door to A New Novel by Bjarne Melgaard, an exhibition that coincides with publication of the artist’s latest novel, his first ever to be published commercially in English. Working closely with a group of leading designers and craftspeople, Melgaard is transforming the gallery’s Upper East Side townhouse into a completely immersive environment that uses his new novel’s story – its protagonist’s tortured infatuation with a doorman and the willing degradations of a surrounding cast of characters – as a point of departure to plumb further the through-line of his entire practice: an exploration of the ways in which sex and violence dovetail with love and loneliness. Melgaard belongs to a long list of artists in different disciplines and across generations, who have explored the animal state of pain and abjection as a sort of certainty, a reliable signpost in the otherwise uncertain search for existence. For such artists, a profound sense of separateness and isolation is negotiated through art and the process of translating ideas from one medium into another.
A New Novel by Bjarne Melgaard will remain on view through December 22nd. The exhibition is organized by Luxembourg & Dayan associate director Alissa Bennett, and will produce a book featuring a major essay by noted theorist and author Ina Blom. Copies of Melgaard’s latest novel – A New Novel, published by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway – will be available at the gallery throughout the run of the exhibition.
For A New Novel by Bjarne Melgaard, each room of the Luxembourg & Dayan townhouse will become a colorful, crammed tableaux occupied by ‘dolls’ acting out the types of violence that figure centrally in Melgaard’s book. More than 150 dolls of different sizes have been made for the show by JoJo Baby, Gabe Bartalos, Colleen Rochette, and Jessica Scott. Occupying a sequence of vignettes that unfold on three floors, these odd figures will wear couture clothing made by Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler in collaboration with Melgaard. The rooms where the dolls appear will be furnished by Melgaard with rugs and layers of patterned wallpaper of his own design, along with furniture created in collaboration with Billy Cotton and upholstered in vintage Ozzie Clark dresses; textiles made by Proenza Schouler; and a jacquard fabric based upon the paintings Melgaard has created for the exhibition. Melgaard also has deployed the dolls for a stop-action animation ‘snuff film.’
In this “surrealist garage sale” atmosphere, Melgaard will present new paintings, as well as more than sixty new drawings in which the Pink Panther, Britt Ekland, and Peter Sellers serve as surrogates for characters from both his novel and the larger pantheon of recurring figures in his overall body of work. Among this fantasy cast, for example, is the American porn star Savannah, who committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 24.
The centerpiece of A New Novel by Bjarne Melgaard is a major series of thirteen new paintings – lush, lavishly colored and visually seductive pictures of tigers presented within the tableaux rooms of the house. Their ropey skeins of intense color evoke viscera, offering a beautiful interpretation of the violence depicted in Melgaard’s book. Like the cartoon animals depicted elsewhere in his oeuvre, these tigers serve as stand-ins for the artist, charismatic and camouflaged, constantly negotiating between the dual impulses of predation and love. Melgaard began making the tiger paintings while preparing for a major exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London, and collaborating with Bellevue Survivors, a group of disabled people in recovery from mental or emotional challenges, including political torture. The lawlessness of the mind and its ultimate unsuitability for strict codes, as well as shifting boundaries between reality and fantasy worlds, serve as powerful subtexts for Melgaard’s canvases.
A New Novel by Bjarne Melgaard is not intended as a direct correlation to the new novel. Instead, Melgaard’s scenes, ideas, and digressions are intended to weave together in a way that defies established norms of narrative and a firm sense of reality in order to bring us closer to reality in all its messy, overlapping, and sometimes sublime chaos.