Bjarne Melgaard – A House to Die In at the Institute of Contemporary Arts

By Ben Miller | 24 September 2012
A photo of a pair of male eyes staring through a yellow and black painted board
Bjarne Melgaard and Eric Di Bella, Untitled (2012). Oil on canvas© Jason Mandella, New York
Exhibition: Bjarne Melgaard – A House to Die In, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, September 25 – November 18 2012

If creative tensions all too often make for the demise of gifted partnerships, the forces paired in this show have been determined to see their plan through to the end.

Since 2011, Bjarne Melgaard and architects Snøhetta have exchanged drawings, models and documents for a purpose built, specially-commissioned house where the acclaimed Brooklyn-based artist will live and work.

An image of a dense abstract painting of a man standing against a sky with a pig above
Bjarne Melgaard and Peter Michael Schepper, Untitled (2012). Oil and krink marker on canvas© Jason Mandella, New York
A full scale model of the façade of the building, which should be completed in Oslo in 2014, will be on show alongside some of the intricate designs. But the collaboration – described as a “positive struggle” – holds its deathly premise for both parties’ beliefs and traditional methods of working.

In the end, their comfort zones have crumbled: Melgaard says his greatest fear is entering the territory of “pure architecture”, and his counterparts from that arena have been forced to seek new approaches to their built forms. Named after one of Norway’s highest mountain peaks, Snøhetta may never have scaled a challenge as lofty as this.

Upstairs, in the Upper Galleries, Melgaard has made a body of work with a group of artists suffering from schizophrenia, facing mental or emotional troubles or in recovery, responding directly to his works without any formal art education or strong connection to the contemporary art world.

Melgaard’s own creations often confront mental stress, deceit, depression, drugs, sex and violence among their subjects, offering personal resonance for some of the participants witnessing his masterful painting techniques for the first time.

An image of a colourful painting showing lime coloured hands above a swirling blue sea
Bjarne Melgaard and Roberta Rivera, Untitled (2012). Oil and krink marker on canvas© Jason Mandella, New York
The artist seems to have been deeply affected by the project. “All of us have grown and worked through many issues in the course of working side by side,” he says, having returned to “a more introverted way of painting” during the final months.

“Simple things like doing portraits of tigers seem just as relevant – or more so to me now – as all those heavy, crazy subjects.

“Maybe I just wanna concentrate more on a beauty aspect of painting and develop that. At the same time, I am expanding my own ways of doing installations and new productions.”

Erik Di Bella has been one of Melgaard’s collaborators in New York. “Art has always been central to my identity,” he says.

“I come from a divorced home, and had a very unhappy childhood. Art was my ticket out of the unhappy world I lived in.

“It has always been central to my identity – it transports me to another place.

“I usually never collaborate with artists, but I must say when I do, I’m glad it’s with Bjarne. He was able to get me to break out of my own art mould.” Visitors will hope to be similarly inspired.

  • Open Tuesday-Sunday 11am-6pm (9pm Thursday, closed Monday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @icalondon and on Facebook.

More pictures:

An image of a colourful painting of various masked figures and green animals
Bjarne Melgaard and Ruben Lopez, Untitled [Diptych] (2012). Oil on canvas© Jason Mandella, New York
An image of a multicoloured painting of a man with long hair and a beard
Bjarne Melgaard and Ruben Lopez, Untitled (2012). Oil on canvas© Jason Mandella, New York
An image of an angular black and red shiny sculpture on a white table inside a gallery
Snøhetta have won architectural awardS© Snøhetta, Oslo
An image of a colourful abstract painting of a forest at night with a tree and full moon
Bjarne Melgaard and Erik Di Bella, Untitled (2012). Oil and krink marker on canvas© Jason Mandella, New York
An image of a drawing of a female figure with a cartoon face inside a curved shape
The lower gallery façade will be covered in 270 burnt oak panels© Jason Mandella, New York
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