Critics’ Picks

View of “A House to Die In,” 2012.


Bjarne Melgaard

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
The Mall
September 25–November 18

“A House to Die In,” Bjarne Melgaard’s visually seductive new exhibition, is a collaboration with Snøhetta, the Norwegian architectural firm that designed the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York. This work, which is expected to be finished in 2014, is a house that the artist will live and labor in. The show presents the building’s facade and a portion of its interior design in two galleries. In the lower space, visitors encounter a structure made with burnt oak. This specific piece began with Snøhetta’s three-dimensional interpretation of Melgaard’s drawings of a “super-black” house. The form was abstracted, and the burnt oak material was chosen because it fit well with Melgaard’s desire to show the natural aging process of the house, among other reasons. The material is also resonant because Melgaard’s studio burned down in Oslo before he moved to New York.

The upper gallery reminds visitors of how vivid Melgaard’s palette can be. The room includes furniture for the house as well as paintings and papier-mâché sculptures. Some of the paintings were created in cooperation with Bellevue Survivors, a group of people in recovery from mental or emotional challenges, including schizophrenia, who were invited to paint over pictures of Melgaard taken by Richard Kern. In a few of the works, his silhouette and eyes are still visible through the colorful layers of paint that depict fantastic landscapes and figures. According to the ICA’s press materials, art played a crucial function in the lives of the Bellevue Survivors, serving as a companion in their isolation. However, with Melgaard they have created a different project, one based on the process of overcoming separateness through a translation of ideas from one medium to another. This results in a not-to-be-missed exhibition where the warmth-generating project of building a house meets an ambiguously domesticated vision of a place in which one could die.