As New York’s oldest non-profit arts space, White Columns is known for its refreshing approaches to making exhibitions. The latest, which opened Saturday, on the crest of Armory Arts Week, is “a projective identification” engineered by the well-loved New York-based Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard. Haven’t heard that term before? You’re not alone. “It’s a way of using another word than ‘curator,’ and it’s a structure through which one can read all the different constellations of meaning between me and Sverre”,” says Melgaard, referring to fellow Norseman Sverre Bjertnes, with whom he shares a studio in New York six months out of the year.
Melgaard’s show is essentially a retrospective of paintings and drawings by Bjertnes, who has been exhibiting for roughly 15 years. “Usually a curator’s work is almost invisible, but here it’s very visual,” says the younger artist of Melgaard. “The entire project is almost like a new art work of his.”
A film shot by Bjertnes further obscures their roles. In it, Bjertnes interviews Melgaard, who remains silent throughout. Instead, the writer Alissa Bennett, seated next to them, answers on Melgaard’s behalf. “A major element of the show is Sverre’s relationship to women as representatives of beauty,” says Bennett, “so Bjarne’s decision to allow me complete agency is sort of the antidote.”
The show also includes works by the legendary furniture dealer and artist Robert Loughlin, nicknamed “the Chairman” by Andy Warhol, whose influence in the world of haute design was considerable, though he lived in a trailer park, in a vintage trailer, in New Jersey.
Loughlin’s pieces are found, mid-century furniture onto which he obsessively painted an iconic Tom of Finland portrait called “The Brute,” from whose lips droops a long cigarette. This repetition draws a parallel with the recurring subject of Bjertnes’s paintings: his girlfriend. These particulat paintings have in turn been printed onto ceramics made by the artist’s mother, Randi Koren Bjertnes.
The backdrop for all this simulacra is a painted environment by Melgaard, made in collaboration with Brendan Dugan, an art director and owner of Karma bookstore in NoHo, tying everything together in a package that, like Melgaard’s universe, is characteristically unruly.