Eye openers: corrective lenses have lent colour to artist Daniel Arsham’s monochromatic output

Eye openers: corrective lenses have lent colour to artist Daniel Arsham’s monochromatic output

Glimpses of a ghostly, monochrome world are what mark out Daniel Arsham. The New York-based artist, and co-founder of experimental design and architecture practice Snarkitecture, has long been moulding his own blend of art, performance and architecture in a hypnotic greyscale palette, which has never veered off-course – that is, until now.

This month, Arsham’s first solo exhibition takes place at the New York branch of Galerie Perrotin, which has represented him for the past 11 years. The exhibition brings together ten sculptural works, as well as an immersive, large-scale installation that takes over the gallery’s entire basement floor – and for the first time is in colour.

‘For the last few years, I have been working with these fictional archaeological objects from our present that have been recreated in materials that we associate with time,’ Arsham says. ‘All of the materials have been in a tonality of black and white. Partly that was due to the colouration of the actual materials, but also I’m colour blind, so most of the work I’ve made has been in that scope.’

He continues, ‘I recently got lenses that partially correct my vision. Now that I’m able to see properly, this exhibition further explores the themes that I’ve been working with, but does it with a palette of colour.’

Arsham’s new work expands upon his role as a historian of contemporary culture, recovering abstracted icons of 20th century living. The exhibition replaces the crumbling boomboxes, video game controllers, motorcycle helmets and cameras that Arsham has conjured up in past work, with symbols of sports culture, such as baseball caps, varsity jackets, protective masks and vests, basketballs and footballs made with rich blue calcite crystal and vibrant purple amethyst.

‘Even though I can see a fuller range of colour now, I’m not just making a rainbow. My vision is actually not that reduced. If you see 100 per cent of colour, I see about 20 per cent of the range, so it’s not entirely black and white,’ Arsham explains. ‘The colour in the exhibition comes from the materials themselves. I’m still using some of the reductive palette that I’ve used in my work in the past, which is a simplification of things.’ Arsham’s fascination with turning everyday objects into mysterious and curious artefacts is a mission that continues to define his practice. ‘I’ve looked for things that are icons of themselves. Things that are immediately recognisable, not just to me and to Western culture, but worldwide,’ he says. The crystalline effect of the materials – and the fact that Arsham doesn’t repair the failings of the casting process – produces a frozen yet imperfect portrait of contemporary life that leaves the viewer with a dissociative take on today’s pop culture.

‘I have always been interested in architecture and time. I’ve done a lot of work in which I’ve explored archeology and objects, but I’ve never explored the fictional archeologist, if you will. This exhibition sort of hints at this character,’ he adds.

That character is most apparent in Arsham’s installation of amethyst basketballs, which takes over the gallery’s basement like some obsessive collector’s cavern. Realised in varying shades of violet, the balls, which vary in size, are cast from crushed crystals and compressed into moulds to great visual effect. ‘There are no rules on how to cast volcanic ash or crystal into these shapes, so the framework of that was really based on casting techniques that have existed for hundreds of years,’ he says. ‘They are quite rudimentary processes that I’ve then further developed and expanded on.’

As for the choices of blue and purple for his first foray into colour, Arsham says, ‘The final materials happened to be the first ones that really worked for me. But I did play around with jade and different types of selenite crystal. I also have a wide range of other crystals in various colours that we will do something with at some point.’ So watch this space.

As originally featured in the October 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*211)

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