Artist BJARNE MELGAARD’s Demented SoHo Yard Sale Resurrects a Stolen Sculpture

Overused, worn down, empty. Literally. The Light Bulb Man sits, crosslegged, jumbled in messy sheets, in a cheap motel room somewhere on the road to hell. His perforated skin allows the caffeine of his post-coital beverage to waft through every pore of his freckled exterior. His hollowed out eyes representing decades of misery and endurance. Now, finally saved by his creator, The Light Bulb Man is ready for his long-awaited comeback.

In 1996, Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard signed away the rights to his sculpture The Light Bulb Man after showing it at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum. It was bought by a business man, who succeeded in aggressively over-producing the piece in years to come. “It was all taken away from me and made almost into a souvenir shop sculpture,” the artist recalls. Melgaard only recently won back the rights to the sculpture, his victory relying on his legal firm insisting on his deteriorated state of mind at the time of passing on the rights to his work.

Painting by Jerry Lafaro commissioned by Babak Radboy for Bjarne Melgaard.

Now, in the euphoric aftermath of reclaiming his lost sculpture, Melgaard collaborated with art director Babak Radboy to rebrand the Man “as a kind of prostitute, to humiliate and commercialize and complicate its status as a unique work of art,” Radboy explains. In 2015 the duo worked with the commercial illustrator Jerry Lafaro, who was involved in the creation of the iconic mascot Joe Camel, to resurrect the sculpture into this new narrative. The perforated sculpture also became the inspiration for a clothing collection, which appeared last May in a pop-up shop in the Austrian countryside. The installation overflowed with T-shirts, sweatpants, and stuffed animals, punctured with gaping holes to commend their source of inspiration. However, not a single item was purchased. “I wanted to continue this narrative, rather than pretend that having won the case, I have a brand new sculpture and that none of this ever happened. I mean, you can’t get away from it—it will never be the same,” Melgaard clarifies.

The “everything must go” liquidation-sale-come-exhibition now travels to New York. Nearly one thousand garments, sculptures, and site specific pieces will invade the space of VFILES on Mercer Street, priced with the intention to sell, not to show.

The exhibition “Daddies Like You Don’t Grow On Palm Trees” opens in New York at VFiles on March 17.

Bjarne Melgaard, "Light Bulb Man"

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