Bjarne Melgaard made his New York solo debut in 2000 at the Alleged Gallery, now long gone. Alleged, on a skuzzy fringe of Chelsea, was the most radical gallery in the area, and Mr. Melgaard’s show, “The Mutilation of the Apes,” was like nothing else around. It consisted of a monumental sculpture of two male apes, dressed as biker-astronauts, having sex, and posters referring to race wars, child pornography and the apocalypse. The vibes were messy — gross, silly, sick — but the show felt oddly precise, purposeful and vital, the way the products of obsession can. You sensed it was about something, but you just didn’t know what, and that was good.
Mr. Melgaard has had several other stimulatingly confounding shows since. For the current one at Luxembourg & Dayan, called “A New Novel by Bjarne Melgaard” and organized by Mr. Melgaard with the gallery’s associate director, Alissa Bennett, he has filled several floors of a narrow Upper East Side town house with fastidiously outré objects to produce what I take to be a visual essay on innocence and experience and on how the two states are basically indistinguishable.
The ground floor is set up like a combination bookshop and toy store, with dozens of dolls — slinky blond bombshells in couture outfits (designed by Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler) and found Pink Panther figurines — perched on stacks of Mr. Melgaard’s novel, a erotic roman à clef in many chapters and several voices. (You can buy a copy in the gallery.) The installation is a cheery, pattern-crazed exercise in overkill that, upstairs, turns into something else, a study in fetishistic hoarding.
There are more dolls, many chained up or tied down. Furniture-jammed rooms are strewn with crack pipes, Pink Panther drawings, Coke cans, pill vials, and syringes. On one floor there’s a display of Mr. Melgaard’s new paintings, semiabstract, in intestinal colors; on another, a bondage snuff film (made with the animator Gabe Bartalos) accompanied by a sculptural tableau not so different from that early one at Alleged.
There may or may not be a narrative thread derived from Mr. Melgaard’s book, which recounts his in-every-sense tortured affair with a doorman. What the book and show do share is a nonlinear format, a tone of assaultive abjection, and a sense of being both unresolved and completely realized.
Thirteen years after that first show Mr. Melgaard’s shock effects are getting a bit old. His paintings are no better or worse than most around these days. A career that once seemed premised on staying distant from the mainstream art world is not so distant: How art-worldly to promote a new book with a show!
What stays strong and disorienting is the crazily concentrated, hands-on, brains-on way Mr. Melgaard builds and orchestrates his material, all the funky, kinky, delicate little pieces, adding and tweaking, putting this with that. It’s art making as a form of child’s play, with the concentration and imaginative leaps that implies. It gives ordinary dead-end decadence a certain vivacity and mysterious, qualities that, in art, can be ends in themselves.