Bjarne Melgaard   
Untitled, 1999, oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm

Born 1967 in Sydney (Australia)
Lives and works in New York City (USA)

Bjarne Melgaard lives and works in New York and is considered – not only in his homeland – the most important contemporary Norwegian artist. He is a master of provocation and of breaching taboos who, in his exhibitions – unchecked installations of painting, sculpture, ready-mades and textual expression – explores the mental depths of humanity with an explicitly masculine, even brutal, vigour. The impudent painting I am not a piece of shit I am a piece of society is no different. Its drastic aesthetic harks backs to forms of anti-art, to works by Dubuffet, to Basquiat or to the graffitied messages you see on urban walls and fences. There can be no doubt that Melgaard is picking up where this rebellious art form left off, an art form that aims to grab the attention. The obvious spelling mistake could thus be blamed on haste, but that interpretation would miss the multidimensional ways the work can be read. It not only cites the artwork that is graffiti, turning it into a pastose arrangement of colour, but also the impulsive forms of expression that we know from action painting. The aggressively applied paint marks, the frantic placing of the letters underscore the rebellious subjectivity of an artistic act of painting.

The vulgar goes hand-in-hand with spontaneity of design, the random with considered placement. In stark letters, the picture demands your attention and expressly insists on being acknowledged. Is it the artist himself demanding validation and integration for his individuality and his self-image – because he is part of the society that surrounds and shapes him, and not an outsider? Or is Melgaard giving art itself a voice it can use to demand recognition, despite content that attacks aesthetic sensibilities? – The sentence “I am not a piece of shit I am a piece of society” typifies a torn society that blanks out and marginalises whatever doesn’t match the norm, whatever it doesn't understand or finds ugly, even though those things merely reflect the values and behaviours found in society itself. The work is thus an angry plea to reject the affirmative character of elaborated art.

Text: Sarah Lemmermann