The controversial Norwegian artist talks growing up repressed, playing Daddy on sex apps and his plans to co-edit an issue of the erotic magazine with Richard Kern
After completing his fetish epic Saló, Pier Paolo Pasolini was tragically murdered in murky circumstances. Let’s just say that if Bjarne Melgaard were around back then, he would have to watch his back. The 47-year-old Norwegian-raised, New York-based artist makes frank and personal paintings, sculptures, and installations that call into question human prudence with regards to normative views of sexuality and drugs. They are, in short, progressive; Melgaard genuinely wants the fucked-up sexual conservatism to just change already. His recent installation in the 2014 Whitney Biennial was a sort of psychosexual take on civilisation’s decay. Sex dolls, figurative pillows with penises for hands, couches covered in images culled from the deep web, which for Melgaard represents the abcesses of our society, are thrown together in a hectic mass.
All of which made Melgaard the perfect candidate to work on a project for Jonathan Baron and Matthew Holroyd’s Baron Magazine in their ‘Future of Sex’ issue this past summer. The collaboration went so well, Baron invited Melgaard to put together a whole issue as a co-editor with Richard Kern, a photographer whose sensual pictures of young women offer a similar sex positive take. Which, of course, provokes comparable conservative recoil from critics. There won’t be any resulting murder, which means, perhaps that all this artistic work towards a sexually unrepressed future is making a dent. We caught up with Melgaard to talk about the recent headlines made by one of his more confrontational sculptures and his upcoming two-person show with Edvard Munch.
Norway only officially legalised pornography in the last ten years. Did it feel repressed to you when you were growing up?
Bjarne Melgaard: Noway was very puritanical and homophobic growing up. It was a weird juxtaposition, because Scandinavia was suppose to be the birthplace for the sexual revolution in the 60s, but at the same time, growing up there as a gay young man, you felt very alienated and sex was something very complicated.
When did sexuality start to make its way into your work?
Bjarne Melgaard: I was very influenced by the whole No Wave movement in my youth, which included, amongst others, the films of Richard Kern and bands like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and from early on my work dealt maybe more with sexual neurosis than desire – but definitively sexual.
Why do you feel identifying as a gay artist still matters?
Bjarne Melgaard: Well, since being gay these days seems more about getting married and joining the army, I feel very strongly about pinpointing a more ‘deceased’ homosexuality than the hetero propaganda that gay organisations are working so hard to achieve.
“Since being gay these days seems more about getting married and joining the army, I feel very strongly about pinpointing a more ‘deceased’ homosexuality than the hetero propaganda that gay organisations are working so hard to achieve” – Bjarne Melgaard
Your work in the issue is amazing – especially the graphic chats from a Grindr-like dating app that portrays you as the Daddy. What’s going on in the project?
Bjarne Melgaard: The whole project started from the fact that I had a sex app on my phone called Scruff, and I was suddenly contacted by this guy who was obsessed about me being his Daddy. The crazy thing about all of it was that he already knew me from four years back when he had tried to have sex with me but I was not interested. When he started to send me pics, I found them weirdly familiar. After I asked him if we met before, he told me he had met me four years ago and wanted another go at it. In the meantime, he had become this porn star, and we started meeting, and did films and photos and stuff together, and some of it ended up in Baron. So, it’s really a kind of story about how continuation and reconfiguration of desire is implicated through online encounters. It’s like you just never can escape or hide: they always find you.
Baron has also asked you to co-edit the next issue with Richard Kern. Where do you think your work overlaps?
Bjarne Melgaard: Maybe it’s a meeting point between me and Richard in the repetition of sexuality and how it deals with issues like boredom, overexposure, and excess.
What can we expect from the issue?
Bjarne Melgaard: The plans are few, but will include a secret mix of beastiality, romance and my new boyfriend.
Last year, you gained some notoriety for your work, a play on Allen Jones’s “Chair,” and how Dasha Zhukova used it as such. Jones has stated that his chair was never meant to be sat on. What do you think about all the controversy?
Bjarne Melgaard: I never asked for that photo to be taken and just found the whole thing ridiculous. Anyway that piece was all about the reconfiguration of shit art like Allen Jones’s and turning it into something even worse, and I think it worked.
You have an exhibition upcoming at the Munch Museum in Norway that you’re working with LA-based fashion label 69. What will the show look like?
Bjarne Melgaard: The show is a exhibition about me and Munch. The show will have works by me going back something like 25 years paired with never-before-shown works by Munch. I will also show one big new painting and sculpture installation with 360 different objects and rugs and dolls and stuff by 69 and me. So, it’s pretty extensive. Also, the architectural firm Snøhetta is redesigning the whole museum space. Also opening is a show of new works in January 2015, the same week as Munch, at Galerie Ropac in Paris. The work is all done together with hair genius Bob Recine, legendary fashion designer Andre Walker, and makeup genius Linda Mason.
What will sex be like in 2114?
Bjarne Melgaard: Transcendental.
Baron will celebrate their 'The Future of Sex' issue with a Christmas party at Super Mags of Soho, 33 Brewer street, on Dec 3rd from 6.30 until 10pm