Bjarne Melgaard

° 1967

Lives in New York City (US), born in Sydney (AU).

Bjarne Melgaard was born in 1967 in Sydney, Australia, to Norwegian parents and grew up in Oslo, Norway, where he attended art school from the age of 12. In 1990, he moved to Poland, where he studied neo-plasticism or The New Design (Piet Mondrian, Theo Van Doesburg)  at the Academy of Fine Arts. After receiving a scholarship, the logical next step was a move to the Netherlands, where he completed his studies at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam and, in 1993, at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. In 2009, he moved to New York.

In the 1990s, Melgaard developed his neo-expressionist painting style in which the often brutal, impulsive movement of painting represents the introspection into his troubled soul as if the layers of paint were remnants of the emotional impact of painting. Melgaard captures the time he spends with a painting, often obsessively, to the extent that he is in the painting, and the painting speaks to him in the same way it speaks to the viewer. His paintings are populated by hybrid human animals, personal archetypes of mainstream media, Norse mythology and monstrous personifications of his obsession with alienation, freedom, social exclusion, his homosexuality, and self-destruction. As a colourist, he uses thick layers and splashes of oil paint on often monochrome backgrounds (blue, yellow, red) to depict these dark fantasies. The monstrous figures and alter egos in his paintings transcend the caricature because of the composition, light, and cheerful colours. Melgaard also lards his paintings with text fragments, with names, confessions and thoughts such as You wanna be white man's black bitch? Two minutes later a reply comes: Yes.

His drawings and paintings often are the starting point for 'immersive' installations, which in the 1990s were the equivalent of a blasphemous middle finger to the work of formalists such as Donald Judd or Sol Lewitt, among others, or to what Melgaard considered the 'mainstream' in the art world and beyond.

This is a painter who comes after Munch, who is inspired by Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and the Rococo. Melgaard does not shy away from provocation. Quite the opposite, in fact. In his depiction of violence, deviant sexual excesses, and drug abuse, he constantly pushes the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable. In his first solo show, Melgaard already struck a nerve with his Nothing Special (Galerie Faurschou, Copenhagen, 2002), immersing the audience in the world of homosexual SM and darkrooms, combined with Black Metal music, gigantic banners made of plastic with the lyrics to "You are my sunken beach", drawings from the Chemical Diary series, and some protagonists (alter egos and monsters) that regularly appear in his oeuvre. The controversy often overshadows the work, which is not that difficult with books and novels with titles such as Black Low: The Punk Movement was just Hippies with Short Hair (1999), My Catalan Whore (2006), The Synthetic Slut (2010), Melgaard + Munich: The end of it all had already happened (2015). For Elisabeth and me (Paris, 2020), he drew inspiration from the life and book (Prozac Nation) of Elisabeth Wurtzel.

In 2015, the artist was accused of paedophilia when the police were called to the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, where visitors complained about his video Gym Queens Deserve to Die, featuring a man inserting a baby's arm into his mouth in a sexualised manner. In another performance piece called AIDS Roulette, Melgaard enlisted six men, one of whom was HIV-positive, and randomly chose one to have sex with.

Melgaard also used live tiger cubs in one of his installations, put live Chihuahuas in baby clothes, and made sculptures of monkeys engaging in aggressive sex. There are very few taboos that Melgaard does not break. From his position as an artist, homosexual, (white) man and outsider, there are strong links to the Queer movement of the 1970s and 1980s. The figure of The Pink Panther pops up regularly in his oeuvre. Melgaard's version has a crystal-meth pipe in his mouth and looks wounded and battered after a night out on the tiles. He is dressed in designer clothes, wearing a tall gentleman's hat and puffing his chest.

In 2014, a photo of Russian art dealer and 'art socialite' Dasha Zhukova caused a furore. The chair on which she was perched was a statue of a naked bonded black woman with her back on the ground, legs in the air. It was a reinterpretation of an artwork by the pop art artist Allen Jones, in which women literally depicted a chair and a table. Provocation seems to be second nature to Melgaard. The artist often makes headlines for all the wrong reasons.

He occupies the entire space for each show, creating a chaotically organised interior for his work, ranging from a bedroom, a souvenir shop, an SM dungeon, the room or brain of a psychiatric patient, or even the interior of a Miami gangster's villa. This looks deeply unsettling, or as Melgaard himself explains in his later work on the Anthropocene and climate change:

"Our collective psyche has been abused and damaged in the same way as the environment around us."

During a short break in his art practice, Melgaard released a fashion line. At New York Fashion Week, he caused a furore, giving away over USD 500,000 worth of designer clothes for free, including T-shirts with the inscription 'I hate Rihanna' in the 'psychopathological department store' in his show The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment. He also made a toy doll in his own image, called The Anabolic Warrior, launching it in the Japanese market, where it flopped. It seemed like a metaphor for his 'chemical' struggle with his body, which he considered to be nothing more than chemical waste.

Since then, Bjarne Melgaard has continued to work unperturbed on his inimitable oeuvre of paintings, videos, sculptures, novels, a fashion line, architecture and design. In recent years, the artist has returned to painting more frequently, collaborating with other artists. In 2011, he launched the building project A house to die in with entrepreneurs Olaf and Frederik Selvaag and the architectural firm Snøhetta. The house/studio, based on Melgaard's sketches, will be situated on a site near Oslo, near Edvard Munch's former house and studio. Every work, whether a novel, painting, fashion line, building or sculpture, is part of a Gesamtkunstwerk, like a chapter in a book.


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