A New Novel by Bjarne Melgaard is both a new novel (by Bjarne Melgaard) and a mixed-media exhibition at the famously narrow Luxembourg & Dayan townhouse on E77th St. The exhibition coincides with the publication of Melgaard’s latest and first commercially available English novel. In collaboration with other artists, the townhouse is transformed into a complex network of paintings, drawings, dioramas, dolls, clothing, prints, wallpaper, stop-motion animation and other ephemera of the artist.
Melgaard uses the novel as a starting point from which to delve into the entire breadth of his practice. At its core, Melgaard examines the relationship of sex, drugs and violence alongside its necessary counterpoint of love and isolation.
In the drawings, dialogues swirl around recurring characters Pink Panther and Peter Sellers. They are sentimental, sweet and cruel. Their palimpsestic nature increases a sense of constraint and anxiety in the first room of the exhibition. The characters act as variations of the artist’s personality as well as proxies to characters in the novel.
Hundreds of dolls are utilized and brutalized in the dioramas on the second and fifth floor of the exhibition. In them we see bombed out post coital drug laced scenes where crack pipes, perfume bottles, knifes, and dozens of pill bottles merge with hip philosophic texts. Suggesting that the rigors of the intellect are indeed present in these seemingly hedonistic scenes of sex, violence and drugs.
The four and a half minute stop motion “snuff” animation has a more literal relationship to the novel, as it is presumably an illustration of a scene. In it, a man enters a dark room where two men tie him up and… have their way with him, as it were. Eventually, the man starts to hallucinate and is in and out of consciousness. Sound has a hazy relationship to image in the animation, which feels eerily appropriate.
On the third floor, we see the main event: thirteen fresh oil paintings in a series based on tigers. This is the only section where the work is non-collaborative: It’s all Melgaard. The paintings are vivid and playful, in sorbet colors. Despite the bright color scheme, the dense layering of paint and image can at times be violent, although this is a different violence than that of the dioramas and animation. It is personal violence and a violence of the conflicting impulses of the tiger-predator and tiger-mother. The associate director of the gallery, Alissa Bennett spoke of Melgaard’s work in terms of flux, the tension between fantasy and reality. Melgaard’s tiger paintings are charged with these dualities and also their inevitable failure.
Throughout A New Novel by Bjaarne Melgaard, we experience violence and intimacy in a way that subjugates us by reminding us that the full horror of an event or situation is forever off-stage. And within the use of a text, film, painting or any combination of media, Melgaard achieves a magnificent glimpse of what “off-stage” must look like.
PHOTOGRAPHY ADAM KATZ SINDING