Known for sleek, high-production-value art installations, Red Bull Arts New York launched its first exhibition earlier this year as a rebranded entity, transforming its crisp white gallery into a derelict multilevel department store. The Casual Pleasure of Disappointment, conceived by Norwegian artist and designer Bjarne Melgaard in collaboration with Babak Radboy, brought to life Melgaard’s ongoing ‘fashion’ project of the same name, a violent depiction of the negative nature of fashion and consumerism.

The unisex clothing collection aggressively addressed the contemporary fashion landscape that Melgaard regards, according to Red Bull Arts’ website, as ‘a vague nothing at the intersection of a subject and an object – between inadequacy, self-deceit, victimization, ethical compromise, intellectual humiliation, financial/romantic entanglements and corporeal decay – driven by an infinite cycle of disappointment and desire.’

The team of creatives, inspired by Red Bull’s former function as a Barney’s Co-Op, interpreted Melgaard’s ideas in a series of installations. Spaces were characterized by genetically enhanced and intentionally mistreated mannequins draped in bespoke garments produced in collaboration with artist and fashion stylist Avena Gallagher. Sweats, jackets and worn T-shirts both owned and designed by Melgaard sported slogans like ‘the more you pay, the less they care,’ and ‘your loans, your problems.’

They signalled issues close to Melgaard’s heart, such as – again from the website – ‘the necessity of armed struggle for queer liberation,’ the rejection of ‘homonationalism,’ and the building of ‘solidarity between older men of means’ as opposed to ‘the emotional and financial exploitation perpetrated by the young.’

The more you pay, the less they care

Further enlivening the exhibition – an environment defined by unfinished sheetrock walls, foam, exposed mechanical services and cabling, abandoned bolts of fabric, illuminated signage and posters, randomly positioned fluorescent lighting, unfinished columns and punctured ceiling boards – was a series of night-time events, during which the artist gave away items from his personal collection of ‘designer fashion and high-end streetwear.’

In doing so, he facilitated ‘an emotional and physical purge’ and disassociated himself from, as he told Casey Lesser of Artsy, ‘the current moment, where young celebrities have fuelled an upsurge in the prices of streetwear labels, and fashion houses have dedicated serious resources to “athleisure” lines with equally serious price tags.’

The result was a public stampede of sorts, as Melgaard devotees, art enthusiasts and those with a penchant for designer apparel stormed the venue, scoring what they could, underscoring the subversive spectacle and raising questions about Melgaard’s multilayered approach to the provocative and critical questions of our time.

This piece was originally featured on Frame 117. You can purchase a copy here.