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Bjarne Melgaard talks about repurposing his old clothes as high art

Written by
Paul Laster
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Having flirted with couture over the past several years, Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard is seizing the moment during New York Fashion Week to mount “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment,” a presentation of one-of-a-kind outfits displayed on bizarrely painted mannequins—along with a jewelry line modeled by miniature pigs. Created by Melgaard and several collaborators, including compatriot designer Bjørg, the show whimsically transforms Red Bull Arts New York (the former Barneys Co-op) and Gavin Brown’s Lower East Side gallery into renegade boutiques. Recently the bad-boy artist took a break from supervising the Red Bull installation to talk about repurposing his old clothes as high fashion.

Bjarne Melgaard, Muppet in collaboration with Jim Henson Company and Babak Radboy, 2016
Courtesy Red Bull Arts New York, © Bjarne Melgaard

Is this a fashion show or an art exhibit?
Both. Everything I do is a single pursuit, whether I’m making paintings or sculptures or fashion. They’re all part of the same gesamtkunstkwerk, or total artwork.

Abuse jacket from the MELGAARD collection, 2017
Courtesy Red Bull Arts New York, © Bjarne Melgaard

You’ve described the project as a psychopathological department store. What does that mean?
It’s a department store where we not only show clothes but also different attitudes toward language, art and fashion. Everything is a bit derelict. There are sex booths that people can use and also fictional group-therapy sessions.

Bjarne Melgaard and Avena Gallagher, mannequin from The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, 2017
Andy Harman and Vinny Dellio II, courtesy Red Bull Arts New York, © Bjarne Melgaard

What other kinds of things are you including?
There’s a couture line made from my own cut-up clothes, along with a ready-to-wear capsule collection. I’ve created three videos for the show, plus an architectural installation. There’s also a look book featuring a hard-core porn shoot with models wearing the clothing. I’ve customized the mannequins to give each a different personality and accessorized them with things like meth-pipe earrings and raccoon bags.

Bjarne Melg aard and Babak Radboy, Goodbye To Love, 2017, video still

You mentioned videos. Could you describe them?
One of them shows me performing songs by the Carpenters as a muppet, which Jim Henson’s Creature Shop made for me. There’s another of a burning rainbow flag and a third of poodles with their hair colored and shaped to look like different types of animals, which is popular among dog owners in China.

What does the jewelry line at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise involve?
It includes items shaped like penises and phrases like i just want to be a lesbian made with precious metals and stones. They’ll be modeled by miniature pigs at the opening and closing receptions and displayed in cases during the show.

Bjarne Melgaard and Gallagher, mannequin from The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, 2017
Andy Harman and Vinny Dellio II, courtesy Red Bull Arts New York, © Bjarne Melgaard

Do you consider yourself a fashion whore?
No. I’m interested in clothes but not fashion per se. A fashionable lifestyle doesn’t interest me.

Bjarne Melgaard, “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment” is at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise through Sun 19 and at Red Bull Arts New York Thu 16–Apr 19.

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