Photography: Megan Mack/Red Bull Arts New York
When it was announced last week that artist and designer Bjarne Melgaard would be giving away $500,000 worth of designer duds and items from his eponymous collection at Red Bull Arts New York as part of his exhibition The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. People don’t just give away their bomb ass collection of Margiela, Eckhaus Latta, Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons, even if it is in the name of art, you know? There had to be some strings attached.
The so-called Purge — a reference to both Melgaard’s decision to purge his material possessions as well as to the terrifying film franchise in which people are allowed to murder their neighbors free of consequence — took place on Valentine’s Day, a decision I can’t imagine was accidental. It also functioned as part of a suite of events, including one at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise that employed live piglets in diamond jewelry, held to fete the launch of the MELGAARD brand and also playfully mock the bastion of capitalism and vanity that is New York Fashion Week.
It turns out, I had good reason to be skeptical, but not for the lack of free designer swag. It was all there (though perhaps less of it than anticipated) and a line of kids bent around 18th and 7th in the hopes of getting inside for five minutes with a garbage bag to scoop up as much of it as possible. People brought coolers and folding chairs. According to a spokesperson for the event, the people in the front of the line got there at 10 am. The event started at 5 pm and it’s February in New York.
Most of them would not make it inside, and many of the ones that did just found a mostly-empty floor littered with MELGAARD patches, random DVDs and not much else. That being said, there were plenty of people scampering off happily with red garbage bags full of stuff. I, for one, copped a pink MELGAARD tee that says “see a child and puke” and I’m pretty damn stoked on it.
Once it became obvious that stock was running low, people started pushing and shoving to the point that the disorganized swarm began to spill into the street, much to the chagrin of both passing cabs and the people trying to run the event. One girl told me that inside, someone tried to rip her own coat off her body. It was a bit scary, though not altogether unlike the scene outside the launch of a major designer H&M collaboration, which I imagine is what the artist was going for.
The exhibition, which opens to the public tomorrow, transforms the Red Bull space into a kind of dilapidated department store replete with distorted mannequins sporting a mishmash of high-end duds (throughout the Purge, people had to be continually reminded by security not to steal the clothing off them, as it was significantly better than the stuff on the floor). By showing us this strange, seedy alternative to our beloved American department store, or encouraging us to push and shove each other in the hopes of scoring free clothes, Melgaard shines a harsh light on our ugly hunger for material possessions.
And as the name The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment suggests, even when we get what we think we want from retail (or in this case, “free-tail”), it’s not enough. We’re disappointed, naturally, because that’s how they keep us coming back for more. Hence the kids griping about there not being any Kenzo left by the time they made it inside, or even the ones who left in a huff because, after waiting for three hours, they’re going home empty-handed.
A press release for The Purge reads: “The launch of the Melgaard brand suggests the retirement of Bjarne Melgaard as a fine artist, abandoning the humiliating context of the exhibition platform for the much worse context of cult streetwear: a market pretending to be a community, pretending to be a violent assault on reproduction.”
While I don’t think this marks Melgaard’s departure from the art world, as the MELGAARD brand, up to this point, seems to be more performance art project than legitimate fashion label, I do think it’s a pretty brilliant satire of the art and fashion worlds, in which it is often easy to feel like what brand you’re wearing (or how many brands you’re able to stuff into a garbage bag in five minutes) defines how you might evaluate your worth as a human being.