Close your eyes and imagine the following situation: the apocalypse has finally come—perhaps some disease wiped out the human population in a grand, Walking Dead kind of way—and you're one of the few left on earth. Lucky you. You stumble along, kicking empty soda cans until you come across what was most likely the most seminal setting of your teenage years: the mall.
You wander in to find a looted, decaying wasteland.
You wander in to find a looted, decaying wasteland. The only bodies around you are those of manufactured mannequins; clothes are scattered everywhere. That, my friend, is basically what you feel like when you walk into Bjarne Melgaard's The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment.
The idea for this exhibition, which opened this week at Red Bull Arts New York, started to come together a few years ago when Melgaard met his now creative director Babak Radboy while they were participating in a group show. "He always wanted to do something in fashion and at the time, I was making a fake fashion line," Radboy tells us minutes before the opening of The Purge (more on that in a moment). "And I think he just wanted to make a fake fashion line, too." Mission accomplished.
There are a lot of layers to the experiential performance piece. The first is The Purge. On Valentine's Day, Melgaard offered up a large collection of his clothes—which, according to press materials, amounted to $500,000 worth of designer garments he'd accumulated over the years—to the public. "[This exhibition] revolves around the wins and losses of fashion: the idea of accumulation, the idea of repenting, purging, finding solace in some garment and being disappointed—sort of a bottomless pit of retail therapy," says Max Wolf, chief curator at Red Bull Arts New York. "For Bjarne, this was an opportunity to purge. Out with the old, in with the new."
A long line trailed down the block for hours until a small group of participants were finally given red garbage bags and five minutes to stuff as many items as they could carry out of the space, free of charge. Greed and some pretty savage antics set in during that time and by the end, nearly all of the clothing was gone. Not much was left for the second group granted entrance. As for everyone else who'd been waiting out in the cold? Tough luck.
In addition to the space itself—which is overrun by dystopian mannequins styled by Avena Gallagher—the show also features videos of a puppet version of Melgaard, created with the Jim Henson Company, that blurs the line between the autobiographical and fictional. Then, of course, there is the clothing line itself, which features tongue-in-cheek tees and hoodies emblazoned with statements like "I Hate Rihanna" and "Not Your Gay Friend" (inspired by the early '00s queer anarchist movement Bash Back!), alongside candy-colored cutout sweatsuits.
Radboy says a defining characteristic of the show is their shared unwillingness to compromise authenticity for the sake of self-promotion. "There's no fear. There's no desire for it to be successful. There are no stakes. It's done for no reason, and we're…trying to make things that nobody wants to make, images that nobody wants to see. And it really feels liberating."
A Casual Pleasure of Disappointment will be available to view at Red Bull Arts New York until April 9. For more information, visit redbullartsnewyork.com.