We review famed artist Bjarne Melgaard’s new show “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment” at Red Bull Arts New York.
Bjarne Melgaard’s show “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment”, up now at Red Bull Arts New York fulfills a personal goal of mine, which involves exposing New Yorkers to what the rest of America (approximately) is like in terms of shopping and the “social experience”. There’s apparently not “much” to the show, spanning the two floors of space on 18th street. It’s a scattered mess with plastic clothing hangers and playing cards strewn about the linoleum floor, shoes with no mates, trash in the artificial gardens, defaced mannequin abound dressed in MELGAARD wares, from his collection. The show, “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment” extends, on a larger scale, the art world’s current muse: unremarkability and an obsession with normal, past and present. To accept the show is to be disappointed. In this way, it’s the ultimate conceptual piece, and even further, a charming advance and validation of a theory of thought that remains in testing: that of performativity. Melgaard briefs you over and over- this isn’t going to be great. It works in two ways.
A title of a show is often not particularly significant in regard to the actual show. It doesn’t dictate whether you’ll like the show. It’s rarely serves as even a clue as to what might be in the show. Whether used here as a defense mechanism or a signing away of liability, pull “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment” apart and realize there’s something uniquely satisfying with the whole thing. Think of movies that are “so bad it’s good”. This is what the show is, conceptually. Middle American malls are so bad. They’re glassy, they’re confusing, they’re boring. No one, not even the workers, the salesmen, the face of corporations- want to be there. Melgaard’s embrace of all things unhealthy and unsightly turns the space into something forbidden and strangely romantic. It seeks to be inclusive by being stingy. To maximize shareholder value. To underwhelm, but be marketed to death.
The other half, of course, is to be in on the joke, and take the title seriously. The certain satisfaction of being knowingly f*cked-with. To be underwhelmed but accounting for it by saying, “I expected that” or, “this is so ironic and funny!” And finally, your own enthusiasm for life tends to mirror that of some sort of endlessly excited character until something awful happens to it, to which they chuckle, “I should’ve seen this a mile away.” That’s you, when this show went up. If it sounds abstract, it shouldn’t. It’s a story as old as time: The Picasso-baby comparison, “My kid could do that!” and the causal, “Yeah, well, s/he didn’t.” Or, maybe more politely and selfishly, “Why didn’t I think of that!” It’s not all your fault, Melgaard’s fascination with the twisted normal comes along with a vision on the grand scale, as well as an amount of patience most people don’t have. Recreating space sounds easy enough, until it becomes hilariously arduous, take the “cosmetics” section or the home appliances area, half-assed arrangements of ‘valuable goods’ with little incentive to buy them, let alone try selling them. But Melgaard’s special attention to detail is ultimately deeply satisfying, right down to the escalator “print” on the Red Bull Studio stairs or taking a moment to sift through the DVDs that scatter the floor.
Marketing is something Melgaard seems to have an intuition toward. On the eve of the opening of the full exhibition, hundreds lined up for “The Purge”, marketed as a free-for-all dig-through of all of Bjarne’s personal clothing, all size XL or so, of all different brands and labels. It was overwhelmingly oversold on Bjarne’s part, but overhyped on the public’s part. The disappointment set in as soon as the second batch of people came through. Few items remained. Nothing worth keeping. But outside, the rage continued, even as security guards tried shooing everyone away, resorting to the fire department’s arrival.
One real thing is the the jewelry department, the work of Gavin Brown, the American launch of his collaboration with jeweler Bjørg Nordli-Mathisen (BJØRG). The same collaborative jewelry collection made its European debut at the Astrup Fearnley Museum this past November in Oslo. The whole endeavor (upstairs included) is a collaboration with creative director Babak Radboy.
Feb 16 – April 9, 2017