Age before Beauty: Bjarne Melgaards »Ignorant Transparencies«
No doubt bored with speculation regarding his gender, mental state, and sexual preferences, an oversized, crack-smoking Pink Panther dominates the entrance hall of Gavin Brown’s enterprise. In his exhibition Ignorant Transparencies, Bjarne Melgaard establishes this figure as his alter ego, a stand-in for the »45-year-old worn-out faggot« (Melgaard on Melgaard) that can be stroked, licked (as a portrait in rock salt), and raped.
Melgaard also lines the rooms with wallpaper displaying shark fins lurking in the water and stills from Michael Haneke’s latest movie (WTF??, it’s about depression in old age …), thus setting the parameters for how the exhibition is to be viewed, ie. to be read like a comic strip. In the following room, which is both boring and overwhelming with its overabundance of information, as well as vaguely reminiscent of bad-boy installations that attempt to be subversive, Melgaard sketches a parable on the relationship between consumption and identity formation: Jeremy Scott Limited Edition, Issey Miyake Baobab, La Prairie, Hood By Melgaard, Chris Kraus, Maurice Blanchot. The products look just as out of place as the works they are part of, which read as a crude satire of contemporary art. Thus, ten scenarios by the artist Danny McDonald are squeezed into a horror-movie doll house; the visitor is invited to crawl into a giant plastic bottle containing a 3D animation in which the Pink Panther is raped by Bernd das Brot [literally »Bernd the Bread«, a puppet and popular children’s TV character in Germany – Translator’s note], Melgaard’s nod to the transgressive potential of low-culture Internet fan art and a response to the recent appearance of droves of 3D animations that reflect on their own existence; while other portions of the installation recall the mutated ceramic lamps of the artist Josef Strau.
Ultimately, the artworks as well as the products placed in them come across as accessories of a lifestyle that fills the rest of the empty space. Nothing rises above. Here is all the trash you desire, and it remains precisely the trash you desire. Like in a comic strip, things stay what they are simply depicted as, with no added aesthetic or monetary value. The exhibition’s production cost is roughly equivalent to its sale value. Hence its viewers are not passive observers of a potlatch from which they are economically excluded, but find themselves in a situation where their own desire is placed on an equal footing with that of all other potential viewers.
The exhibition’s final room is dominated by assemblages with a split identity. They are surrounded and overlaid with portraits painted at art therapy sessions. While the decision to have paintings produced as paid therapy is a further attempt to circumvent and undermine the artist’s own generation of added value, the garments that hang beside them like empty bodies – produced for the exhibition by young New York fashion collective Eckhaus Latta – obey a more intricate logic: they blend in with the other products while also symbolizing the exchange of social capital between the artist and the fashion designers. (As a fashion label that managed to cross over into the mainstream amid much fanfare, Eckhaus Latta needs cultural legitimation, while Melgaard needs to be legitimated by these designers who are two generations his junior.) The bodies are accompanied by neurotic and wildly ungrammatical fictional texts depicting the precarious life situations of the creative class. These descriptions create the ambiguous impression of an excess of self-identification whose only option is self-hatred, fueled by a confrontation with the material reality of one’s own desire, its examination, and the apparatuses that generate it.
Melgaard creates a scenario in which there has ceased to be any separation between subjects and products, a world in which identity formation is a process of selection. By rapidly changing scales and assumed perspectives, and equating identity construction, products, and values, he achieves an acceleration of the viewer’s alienation from the works as well as him- or herself.
Finally, what makes this exhibition so incredibly compelling is the artist’s age. This is no young artist engaging in a sharp-eyed and irritatingly clever exploration of the mechanisms of desire-producing apparatuses. This is an artist’s agonizing struggle against the fact that his increasing age also means the gradual liquidation of his social capital. This exhibition is the (self-)portrait of a society whose desperate craving for up-to-date-ness, for information and its use, inevitably makes its actors appear as abstract as the stylized figures of a comic strip, inside and out.
Translated from German by James Gussen