The ICA is presenting a major solo exhibition of Bjarne Melgaard to coincide with London’s Frieze Art Fair, in October. Having spent much of his time in Norway, Melgaard currently lives in New York where he occupies a studio in Brooklyn. The exhibition, A House to Die In (2012) is the result of a close collaboration between Melgaard and award-winning Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta. Since 2011, Melgaard and Snøhetta have exchanged architectural drawings, models and documents as they work towards the realisation of a purpose-built house, commissioned by the Selvaag family and Sealbay AS, where Melgaard will live and work.
For this exhibition in the ICA’s upper and lower galleries, Melgaard will present a 1:1 facade of the proposed building, alongside models and drawings that form part of a wider body of research. This material constitutes the first stage in the construction of the final building, scheduled to be built in 2014 in Oslo, Norway. The collaborative process between Melgaard and Snøhetta is a positive struggle in which both parties are constantly challenged, notably in Snøhetta’s interpretation of Melgaard’s two-dimensional and analogue drawings through three-dimensional digital renderings of the objects. Furthermore, various processes of mathematical abstraction have led to multiple stages of representation of the original information, namely Melgaard’s vision of a house ‘to die in’, a project outside their comfort zone.
Snøhetta’s focus is primarily architectural; whilst Melgaard’s foremost fear is to end up inhabiting the territory of ‘pure architecture’. In this process Snøhetta depart from their comfort zone and well-rehearsed creative processes and seek a new approach to constructing built forms. At the same time there is a fine balance between thinking and simply producing in this process, as the aim is to maintain the inherent quality and identity of Melgaard’s work in the end result.
The Upper Galleries display a body of work which was created by Bjarne Melgaard in partnership with a group of artists (several of whom are in recovery, face mental or emotional challenges or suffer from schizophrenia) without any formal art education and with little awareness of or connection to the contemporary art world who have responded directly to his works. The collaboration resulted in a layered conversation between the artists that responded and expanded on Melgaard’s visual language and subject matter.
‘In this project, the joint authorship reflects the complexity of the artwork. Working with Bjarne challenges us to discover the boundaries of our capabilities.’ Kjetil Thorsen, Snøhetta.
Annatina Miescher MD (born 1955 in Switzerland) lives in New York City where her parents brought her in 1960. She studied medicine in Geneva and got her degree in psychiatry in New York, where she practices and, since 1989, leads an outpatient addiction treatment program in a major city hospital. Art has always been a way of life for her and she applies it to everything. “Practicing psychiatry is like making sculptures with found objects, you take inventory of what the person carries and help them balance it to walk on in life.”
Early this year, she was introduced to Bjarne Melgaard who was looking for a connection to artists with schizophrenia with whom he could collaborate. Together, they broadened their search to artists without any formal art education and with little awareness of or connection to the contemporary art world. Throughout her career she has come across talented people and brought eleven of them to Melgaard’s studio; she herself became part of the group. His vast studio with his personal art had an immediate impact. The first collaborative works all were portraits of Bjarne Melgaard. Melgaard was puzzled that, contrary to his understanding of collaboration, the group seemed to have just painted over his prepared canvases. One can barely guess what might have been on them before, photorealistic paintings of Melgaard over which now lay a new version of portraits of Melgaard as the group saw him, none of which they would have painted had they been given a blank canvas.
The sometimes-uncomfortable representations in Melgaardʼs art (e.g. mental stress, deceit, depression, paranoia, physical deterioration, drugs, sex, violence and nameless martyrs) are all too familiar to the group. They were forced to confront elements of their own history and painted their own recovery on top of the prepared canvases. But the collaboration also developed everyoneʼs sense of inner beauty, taking cues just as much from Melgaardʼs keen sense of color and composition and masterful painting techniques as from the more challenging and darker subjects.
Melgaard himself reports, “I would say that a more practice of pure painting without specific content developed during the last months. I myself have moved now away from more collaborative ways of working and have returned to a more introverted way of painting.” “All of us have grown and worked through many issues in the course of working side by side.” Melgaard has even returned to giving his paintings titles where for the past few years everything was Untitled. “Simple things like doing portraits of Savannah or tigers seem just as relevant or more so to me now as all those heavy, ʻcrazyʼ subjects.” “Maybe I just wanna concentrate more on a beauty aspect of painting and develop that; at the same time I am expanding my own ways of doing installations and new productions maybe based in a poetic realm of a brutal reality, or fiction for that sake.”
About Bjarne Melgaard
Bjarne Melgaard (b. 1967, Sydney, Australia) studied at the Jan van Eycke Academie, Maastricht, Holland; Rijksacademie, Amsterdam; the Academy of Fine Arts, Oslo; and the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw. He had more than forty-five solo exhibitions in leading galleries around the world, including Greene Naftali, New York; Bergen Kunstmuseum, and de Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam, among others. In 2011, Melgaard represented Norway at La Biennale Di Venezia, 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice, with Beyond Death: Viral Discontents and Contemporary Notions about AIDS.
He is a frequent curator and collaborator, has written more than a dozen novels, and produced seven films. In October 2011, Melgaard was the subject of a television documentary produced and broadcast nationally by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, NRK, the government-owned radio and television public broadcasting company. NRK is the largest media organization in Norway and a founding member of the European Broadcasting Union.
His work is held in several international collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Oslo), Billedgalleri, Norwegian Art Council (Oslo), KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki), Malmö Konstmuseum (Bergen, Norway), MARTa Herford Museum (Herford, Germany), Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall (Stockholm), Museet for Samtidskunst (Oslo), National Museum (Oslo), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Musée de Strasbourg (Strasbourg, France), The National Gallery (Oslo), The Rubell Family Collection (Miami), Saatchi Gallery Collection (London), and Collection S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (Gent). Lives and works in New York.
Formed in 1989, Snøhetta is an award-winning international architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture and graphic design firm based in Oslo and New York. As of 2012, the firm, which is named after one of Norway`s highest mountain peaks, has approximately 120 staff members working on projects in Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada. The practice is centered on a transdisciplinary approach where multiple professions work together to explore differing perspectives on the conditions for each project. A respect for diverse backgrounds and cultures is a key feature of the practice; reflecting this value, Snøhetta is composed of designers and professionals from around the world.
Snøhetta has during the last 10 years won several major projects all over the world, mentioning National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion at the World Trade Center in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Mutrah Fishmarket in Oman and King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
In 2004 the company received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and in 2009 it was honored with the Mies van der Rohe Award. Snøhetta is the only company to have twice won the World Architecture Award for best cultural building, in 2002 for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and in 2008 for the National Opera and Ballet in Oslo.
Bjarne Melgaard A House to Die In
25 September – 18 November 2012 Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London, SW1Y 5AH