If all artists generated promising off-the-wall ideas with the same rapidity as Bjarne Melgaard, the art world’s infrastructure would be in deep trouble. Museums would need to expand, dealers would have to seek venture capital, and journalists would struggle to keep up.
In the run-up to the Felix art fair, which opens Thursday at the Hotel Roosevelt in Los Angeles, the 52-year-old Norwegian artist appeared to be preparing another curveball, teasing on Instagram a collaboration with actress Paz de la Huerta. But when that didn’t come together (he declined to get into it), he decided to take a different tack. “I felt it was cool to present just some small paintings and kind of relax,” Melgaard says by phone from Oslo, where he lives.
Bearing Melgaard’s characteristically quick, brushy touch, the works offer scenes like a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair, a woman sitting atop a man’s face, and men crying. They are “depicting everything about age, disease—things that are very immediate,” he says. He wanted to work at an intimate scale because “so many people now are overproducing these huge paintings and installations.”
The work is being presented at Felix, whose hotel-room booths are ideal for modestly sized work, by the free-spirited dealer and columnist Kenny Schachter. “He’s such a fresh breath of air in a dying art world,” Melgaard says.
Seeking a change of scenery, Melgaard decamped from New York to Oslo in 2017, and it seems to be suiting him. “I have two very beautiful dogs—two French bulldogs—and I have a very, very beautiful, kind boyfriend,” he says. “And I have an apartment, with my studio on the first floor. Snøhetta is going to rebuild the studio and my flat so it becomes more like an art piece.”
But the indefatigable provocateur isn’t settling down just yet. The L.A. show comes as a new wave of Melgaard projects are crashing ashore. He recently debuted a VR piece with the Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin that involves DMT, the dark web, and characters from his sprawling body of work who, he says, “commit suicide by getting eaten by white sharks.”
In June, he will have an exhibition at the Breeder gallery in Athens that will include murals. “My idea is that I have divided the spaces into a sex club, an office, and a studio,” he says, while opting not to share details about what that club space will entail. “You have to come and see.”
Next year brings two major shows in Norway—one at the Kunsthall Stavanger, the other a retrospective that will fill the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in Høvikodden. The latter is shaping up to be an unusual production. “In 2021, can we really operate with a category like ‘retrospective’ anymore?” Melgaard asks. Snøhetta will build part of “A House to Die In” for the show, he says, and a Norwegian commercial agency will present an installation of the artist’s selfies. “I take a lot of selfies, especially if I’m depressed,” he explains. “I have this weird thing that—normal people, they usually take selfies when they’re happy—and I, for one or another reason, always took a selfie when I was most miserable.”
A new business is coming together, too. “I have established something called Bjarne Melgaard Enterprise, where I’m establishing a lot of series of different products. I also want to move into a business direction so I can be more free just to do art.”
There is also, intriguingly, a book in the works. “The paintings that I do for Felix are very connected to the novel I’m writing,” Melgaard says. Pressed for information, he says, “The concept is: ‘Goodbye, autobiography. Goodbye, autofiction.’” Unlike his last book, 2012’s A New Novel, there will not be a persona at its center who may or may not be him. “It’s complete fiction,” he says. “It’s really, like: Goodbye, reality.”