"Ignorant Transparencies" Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York, Installation view (2013)

Beyond being an important artist , Visual AIDS is interested in the work of Bjarne Melgaard for the way he works with AIDS. Unlike some artists who may include it as a foot note or out a sense of duty, or to trade on the evocative power of the virus, Melgaard's work respects the physical reality and assemblage phenomena of AIDS. In 2011, in anticipation of the Venice Biennale, he hosted a master class entitled: His website stabfrenzy weaves the anxiety and aesthetic of AIDS along with other modern concerns that go under discussed, but take up so much space in the back of our minds. Below, guest writer Andrew Durbin goes looking for Bjarne Melgaard in the artist's newest solo show, "Ignorant Transparencies" at Gavin Brown's enterprise. What he finds are last chances, beauty, and a new use for pink.

Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard is a hunk of the best kind: big, tough, sexy, and more than a little troubled. His work—the meaningless word “controversial” often precedes it—describes a breakdown of turbulent masculinities, a collision of the sports jock, the porn star, the egomaniacal artist, the overbearing husband, and the fucked-up dad. His new show at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, “Ignorant Transparencies,” evokes a ruptured domesticity, where Saturday morning cartoons—in this case, Melgaard’s alter ego the Pink Panther (altered still further by numerous images of real panthers)—emerge from the TV to wreak havoc on dollhouses, furniture, and the drapes. The show’s press release describes the new work as “tragic” and “a last chance idea of beauty.” What other chance did we have?

Pink is the New Bleak

“Ignorant Transparencies” is divided into four rooms. The first features a large, nearly twenty-foot tall sculpture of the Pink Panther covered in paint, with bloodshot eyes and arms dotted with Band-Aids. There’s a small room with two paintings featuring faces with elongated noses crowned by high heels, imagery repeated throughout the show. The most substantive parts of the show are installed in the back two rooms, the first of which features a series of catchall sculptures amid trashed, plastic furniture. (I saw Jerry Saltz resting on a plastic couch zoned between a TV in a giant Pepto-Bismol bottle playing a short Claymation film of the Pink Panther engaged in anal sex and a series of dead trees tied together and decorated with dolls. Again: what other chance did we have?) There are also several portraits of the Pink Panther made with colored crystal and elaborate, DIY wood frames. The last room of the show features more of Melgaard’s paintings, the canvases layered in thick paint and crisscrossed with tape to hold together a variety of objects: an iPhone, installation notes for the Venice Biennale, books published by Semiotexte, bits of paper, a Lindstrom CD. Wallpaper with drawings of shark fins covers the walls, occasionally matched by bleak statements (“You are a monster”). The fullness of the rooms is overwhelming.

The most definitive feature of all these pieces is their hoarder’s sense of the collective, indiscriminately aggregating objects to accessorize the dismal—Odd Future junk, a detourned Hood by Air bag that now reads Bareback by Air, t-shirts, Pepto-Bismol bottles, various fabrics, over the counter pills—without a formal sense of their arrangement. Things fall into place, but with no predetermined idea of where they come from or where they might, in the end, belong. It is this homelessness, this sense of the fractured place, a loose hanging (as though Melgaard was throwing things together minutes before the gallery’s doors opened) that creates a melancholy that hovers over the entire show. “Ignorant Transparencies” suggests that the meticulous editing of our homes amounts to nothing more than flimsy object-fetishism—compounded in New York’s highly economized domestic spaces—that, once disrupted, only points to its all-for-nothingness, the ultimate, uncontrollable formlessness of personal space. At the same time it is from this mess that Melgaard’s work draws its power—the power to invoke dread: it’s all coming to an end, folks, and the end will start at home. I knew I felt something ominous when the stoned Pink Panther greeted me at the entrance of the show, a big painterly pipe stuck in its mouth. Pink is the new bleak.

Finding Melgaard

I liked Melgaard’s absence in the show, though the work registers the ephemeral contours of his life in his use of personal and professional detritus. But nowhere can you find his instantly recognizable image, something that wasn’t true at his excellent collaboration with Sverre Bjertnes—a “projective identification”—at White Columns last year, where he sat silently for an interviewer in a looped video that showed him in a series of flamboyantly different outfits. Where is Bjarne Melgaard? I thought, as I meandered through the clutter. (He didn’t arrive at the opening until the very end.) Of course he was everywhere, but nowhere at once, until I reached the back room and saw the long sheet with the image of the late porn star Arpad Miklos printed on it, hanging from the high ceiling to the floor, framed by two cutouts of panthers lying in pose. I had seen the image before, but in this context its elegiac mix of sexiness and loss brought me close to tears. When I looked up at Miklos’ gentle, almost abstract smile, I found Melgaard.

Melgaard and Miklos bear a close resemblance, though Miklos was chiseled by a softer hand. In the image (an appropriated porn still), Miklos leans back, his thick, flaccid cock draped over his thigh. I have never exactly understood why Miklos suicide filled me with such sadness. I never really got off on his porn and I didn’t know him personally, but his death provoked mysterious feelings that Melgaard’s show finally clarified for me. The work of “Ignorant Transparencies,” with its feeling of an eleventh hour assembly, evokes an exhausted sense that everything is on the verge of coming undone, though it narrowly avoids doing so. Miklos, on the other hand, didn’t avoid collapse and so his inclusion, elevated over the rest of the work, is a powerful reminder of that risk. I don’t want to suggest that Miklos’ life bears any metaphorical resemblance to the (depressed) world at large, though maybe it does. It’s easy to think that someone so physically large would be able to last longer, if not better, against harsher realities than the rest of us, but of course that isn’t true. The comical cliche of the “big sensitive guy” finds its brutal retort in Miklos’ smile: a reminder that even a life given over to so much pleasure can nevertheless find in it a hopelessness so powerful as to render that life unlivable. In the Perfume Genius video for “Hood,” Miklos quietly holds the frail singer as he offers his trembling prophecies: “You would never call me baby / If you knew me truly / Oh but I waited so long for your love / I am scared baby that I can’t keep it up for long.” Miklos’ handsome face, hung over us, a decidedly thinner, less butch set of art fags, reminded me of what a rare thing sensitivity can be, and how easily we can be deprived of our sources of it. And it’s the sweetness of this sensitivity in Melgaard’s work (however sorrowful it may be in the wreck of its disorderly execution) that marks the visual and emotional gorgeousness of his “anti-aesthetic.”

There were at least three people at the opening I wanted to have sex with, but each had the opposite visual effect of Bjarne Melgaard as personality and artist. Thin, slight, and neutral, they were much closer to what the art world is today and what Melgaard and his work isn’t: readymade for the wealthy collector’’s home, acceptable for any wall. I am a little exhausted by the recent openings in New York, by so many sleek personalities lining up for free white wine or a can of Bud, each as clean and finely executed as the last. I want mess, but I want real mess. But Melgaard’s work restores some of my faith, at least, that the neutral mode in analog art might soon run its course. Melgaard’s fag art (let’s can the term “queer” for a moment, please) is open, rather than totalizing, and ignorantly transparent—literalized in his catchall installations and paintings where everything, even the teary-eyed death of Arpad Miklos, finds a place, regardless of whether or not that place seems haphazard, accidental, or “not quite right.” I like the not quite right. I tweeted later that night: “No more clean lines, Helvetica, neutral spaces, ambience, soft palettes, pleasurable gradients.” I didn’t follow-up with its antidote: “More Melgaard.” But there we have it.

Andrew Durbin co-edits Wonder, an open-source publishing and events platform for poetry and new media art. He is the author of Reveler (Argos Books 2012) and The Standard (Insert Blanc Press 2014). He curates the Queer Division reading series at the Bureau of General Services--Queer Division on the Lower East Side, and lives in New York.