BR: Last May, in the remote Austrian countryside two hours outside of Vienna, there was an opening for a pop-up shop spilling over with vulgarly perforated sweat suits and accessories. It featured mannequins heaped with one-of-a-kind garments from the likes of Miguel Adrover, BLESS and O.R.F.I., commissioned (then defaced) paintings by the artist responsible for the Joe Camel cigarette campaigns of the ‘80’s, thousands of custom stuffed animals, and the world’s largest collection of the works of Otto Meuhle and the Viennese Actionists… Nobody bought any sweat suits, and the show barely received a review. It was the latest in a series of (ostensibly) fashion-related collaborations between the two of us: (infamous) Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard and (allegedly) commercial art director Babak Radboy. I think our creative discussion for this project lasted maybe five or ten minutes. You told me about a sculpture you’d made in the ‘90s called The Light Bulb Man, and said that you wanted me to depict it as a kind of prostitute, to humiliate and commercialize and complicate its status as a unique work of art. I wasn’t at all aware of the court case or history of the piece.
BM: Well, it was my first one-man show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It was the 90’s, and at the time I was not in a good state of mind. I was really incoherent and signed away the rights to all of my sculptures to a private businessman. After the show, he did literally whatever he wanted with the work: took them out of their installations, made editions, had shows without my permission.
It was all taken away from me and made almost into a souvenir shop sculpture. After a few failed attempts, I found a legal firm that focused on the condition I was in when I signed the contract.
BR: The case hinged on proving that you were really fucked up?
BM: Yes—so we won [laughter]. So with the pop-up in Vienna, I wanted to really take back what that sculpture once meant for me. It was an important piece from a show that was very complex. I also wanted to deal with the sadness and the real narrative of it, and see if I could deconstruct that into something else. Because for me, a large part of my works from the ‘90s became ridiculous as well as ridiculed. I wanted to dematerialize the whole process by totally commercializing it. The point was to take the fear of this commercial aspect they had created and dematerialize it—to bring it to another level of whoring myself.
BR: Was that idea of prostitution always part of the narrative for you, as they kept reproducing the sculpture?
BM: Yes, of course. I wanted to continue this narrative, rather than pretend that having won the case, I had a brand new sculpture and that none of this ever happened. I mean, you can’t get away from it—it will never be the same.
BR: So fashion is the ultimate humiliation?
BM: Definitely—especially our collection. You could say that the whole collection is playing with the most base sexual stereotypes. I mean, you have holes in your clothes. So basic.
BR: New holes.
BM: Unexpected holes.
BR: Holes that you can tighten.
BM: Repeating holes, loosened holes…
BR: When I was first introduced to you, people would send me these cautionary interviews where you were saying the most scandalous things, mostly sexual: raping people with sculptures, jamming a Cuisinart on some muscle queen’s chest, trying to get infected with AIDS. Before I knew you, I was really considering whether it was a publicity strategy on your part, or what the kind of thinking behind it was.
BM: In those interviews, I was being asked very direct questions, so I was more or less just saying where I was at that time. But I clearly wanted to create those situations where people were wondering, is this real or not? What kind of fantasy worlds is he moving in between?
Bjarne Melgaard (Norwegian, b. 1967) is an artist who lives and works in New York. He is represented by Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York; Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris; and Galerie Krinzinger, Wien.
Babak Radboy is an artist who lives and works in New York. He is the co-founder of the meta-brand Shanzhai Biennial and creative director of the real brand Telfar. He has produced fifteen issues of Bidoun magazine, where he continues as creative director and chief curator of the Bidoun Library.
During this September’s Paris Fashion Week, Radboy and Melgaard will debut their line, BJARNE, for buyers. The duo is currently planning a pop up shop at Dover Street Market NY this fall and beginning their collaboration on the official marketing strategy for the 9th Berlin Biennial curated by DIS.
3D renderings: Babak Radboy for Bjarne Melgaard, Untitled (The Light Bulb Man) (3d modeling by Jinmu Staddon). Original photography by David Oramas. Illustration by Jerry Lofaro (in order of appearance). Stickers by Ebecho Muslimova