It was like DIS dry-humped Isa Genzken in a Bushwick alley strewn with half-crushed energy-drink cans. Or that’s one way of looking at what happened last night— Valentine’s Day—when approximately 420,100 people queued up outside Red Bull Arts New York, salivating over the chance to score parts of the artist Bjarne Melgaard’s high-fashion collection (total value pegged at around $500k). Melgaard, if you don’t know, is a self-proclaimed “bad dad,” an in-your-face, fur-flaunting, queer hero who makes lurid paintings and multimedia installations designed to give prudes nightmares. It’s Fashion Week, and so his outing with RBANY is about clothes (though there is a more art-world-centric component, dubbed “The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment,” which opens at the space on February 16). But the Valentine’s Day event was something else—something about greed and materialism and piles of shit picked over by greedy, materialistic masses who didn’t even really care what kind of shit was in the pile, at all. The weekend prior, Melgaard opened a show at Gavin Brown’s that featured a bevy of Instagram-ready, miniature piglets. This time, the audience played the piglet role quite handily.
The artist called the evening “The Purge,” a reference to how he was ridding himself of his clothing collection—but also, of course, a nod to the film franchise about a dystopian reality in which Americans are allowed to murder their neighbors (or, you know, whatever) for one night every year. As a journalist, I am contractually obligated not to wait in long lines for things I am writing about, especially when those long lines are outside and occur in the middle of February. This meant that my “Purge” began in a sort of antechamber side-corridor, packed in with other line-hopping media divas, my peers from Artnet and ArtNews and Artforum. I mention this mainly to stress the fact that I was lucky (or “lucky”) enough to be one of the first waves of people to descend on RBANY to rifle and root and snuffle through Melgaard’s clothing collection—and even given these good graces, the experience was one of blue-balls frustration, a disappointment that was casual but not all that pleasant. Which was clearly the point of this anti-spectacle spectacle, a kind of gratuitous screw you (to whom? to everybody), an excuse to stoke consumerist frenzy and then kick those frenzied consumers in the face. I haven’t actually seen the documentary Czech Dream, but the basic sentiment seems the same.
Us journalists were waiting in a side corridor that let into the Main Event room. We were given big garbage bags that—since this is Melgaard we are talking about—recalled nothing so much as giant condoms colored a shade of Tickle-Me-Elmo red. Once the publicists in charge invited us to tumble inside the space, we found a lackluster family of mannequins populating a landscape of deconstructed store fixtures. A mural featured a woman reading to wide-eyed school kids from a book on ANAL VAGINAL ORAL SEX. Fat bottles of J-Jelly lubricant were affixed to the walls. Everyone looked kind of confused and mildly let down (I mean the attendees, not the mannequins). Where was the free shit? The answer was, Mostly gone. A small remaining mountainlet of free shit was quickly scavenged by us deadbeat journos. (I pulled a flowing wizard-robe hoodie from KTZ, along with a grey sweatshirt heralding various names for amphetamine.) Security guards patrolled the area warning everyone off of touching or defrocking the awkwardly clothed mannequins. The whole scene actually seemed designed for the benefit of the mannequins, as if they had just been hanging out, happily, and now had to worry about being molested by a bunch of jerks on the hunt for gratis Supreme schwag.
Not everyone behaved. A RBANY staffer came up, concerned, to a child mannequin. “This baby had a wig!” she moaned. “That girl got stripped?” said an equally concerned colleague. I overheard a publicist, or someone publicist-adjacent: “All the clothes…all the clothes went so fast…” The floor was littered with Bjarne-branded patches that no one really wanted, plus the occasional DVD copy of Planet of the Apes. I overheard another publicist-type leading around a journalist-type, nodding to a mannequin wearing a loose black-and-white disaster, her plastic skin desecrated with marker tattoos. “You know Bjork, right?” the guide explained. “She did the knit.” If you’re wondering what happened to the remaining 410,100 civilians who had been queued up outside—hey, me too. The whole fiasco was over within about thirty minutes, everyone milling about wondering whether it was okay to make off with the couch cushions, a light fixture, one of those bottles of lube. I went into the men’s room, startled by another mannequin installed next to the sinks. The lavatory stalls’ walls were festooned with candy-red rubber dildos. Some guy in the restroom was giddily unsticking and re-sticking one of the dildos on the mirror, smacking it like it had done something to personally offend him. It was Valentine’s Day, and we were experiencing art.
After it became clear that no larger unveiling or performance was in the works, I shuffled out onto the sidewalk with my disappointment and my garbage bag. A small cottage industry of high-fashion traders had sprung up in the meanwhile, little clusters of barter. “You got some dope shit?” one interloper wondered, breaking into a circle of red-bag entrepreneurs. “I got Margiela right here, baby!” the dude answered. He kept pulling garments from his bag, in descending order of impressiveness. The next one was from…Topshop! And then…Adidas, man! The milling crowd laughed, womp-womped, dispersed. Suddenly, all of us Purgers felt easily marked, lugging our bags of presumed treasure. I ducked into a Wells Fargo foyer on 7th Avenue but the Melgaard-hysteria had leaked all the way there; a cashier came out to ask me if I’d scored anything good. A sign to get the hell out of there; Valentine’s Day, after all. There were tulips to buy, a girlfriend to meet. She could wear that XXL Amphetamine sweatshirt like a beautiful, totally free dress. But around the corner, it seemed like life itself was molding to Melgaard’s abject, icky-hip vision. A middle-aged man holding a small dog conversed with a group of strangers whose own small dog was sniffing or pissing around a curbside lump of garbage bags. “He’s into trash?” the man inquired. “My friends are into trash.” It was time to go home and purge myself.