Explore Daniel Arsham’s ‘Relics in the Landscape’ at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Daniel Arsham plays with time in an ambitious exhibition of outdoor sculpture, drawing from three millennia of culture, from the Venus of Arles to Pikachu

sculpture of woman's head lying in field by Daniel Arsham
Daniel Arsham, Unearthed Bronze Eroded Melpomene, 2021, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
(Image credit: Anthony Devlin, Getty Images for Daniel Arsham)

In 2006, artist Daniel Arsham was invited by Merce Cunningham to design a stage set. The legendary choreographer famously collaborated with leading artists including Robert Rauschenberg, so his decision to work with the young Arsham was a testament to the latter’s gift for statement. 

Almost two decades on, Arsham recalls working with Cunningham as he gives a tour of his first outdoor exhibition, ‘Relics in the Landscape’ at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. He cites this opportunity to work on the huge scale required for a stage set as having a major impact on his future practice. He now works across drawing, sculpture and in the metaverse, and one thing that is apparent throughout all his work is his comfort with tackling the monumental, both literally and conceptually.

Daniel Arsham sat in front of sculpture of rabbit

Portrait of Daniel Arsham in front of Bronze Eroded Bunny (Large), 2022, Yorkshire Sculpture Park 

(Image credit: Anthony Devlin, Getty Images for Daniel Arsham)

The show combines new and older sculptures that draw from three millennia of cultural references. Three works were cast from moulds taken from pieces from the Greek and Roman wing at the Louvre, while others reference icons of 20th-century pop culture, including ET’s bicycle and Bugs Bunny. 

‘I went to the facility outside Paris where the Louvre keeps all of its moulds,’ Arsham explains to Wallpaper*. ‘They have moulds of every stone sculpture that is owned by the French ministry of culture. It’s about preservation, but it’s also a bit of a colonial idea, like, they would ship a cast of the Venus de Milo to Algiers and put it in the embassy. It was fortunate that they actually did that because a lot of these  works degrade over time.’

sculpture of astronaut

Daniel Arsham, Bronze Eroded Astronaut, 2022, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

(Image credit: Anthony Devlin, Getty Images for Daniel Arsham)

The visit to the Louvre’s archives stemmed from Arsham’s friendship with Ludovic Laugier, the national heritage curator in charge of Greek sculpture in the museum’s department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities. As the artist explored the museum’s collections of ancient sculpture, he was particularly drawn to the Venus of Arles, which dates to the 1st century BC. Given its status in the French national collection, Laugier advised him that the only way he would be given permission to work with the sculpture would be to write a thesis. 

Two years and one thesis later, Arsham was granted permanent access to the entire collection and cast several works, including those installed in the park today. The agreement came with two conditions: that he complete the casting process in France, and that he didn’t damage the original moulds.  

sculpture of Pikachu

Daniel Arsham, Bronze Crystallized Seated Pikachu, 2022, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

(Image credit: Anthony Devlin, Getty Images for Daniel Arsham)

On entering the landscaped garden, we are greeted with Bronze Eroded Melpomene (2021), a head half buried in the landscape, its surface eroded to a blue-marbled patina which is at once growing and decaying. Nearby is Bronze Crystallized Seated Pikachu (2022), equally eroded to take on the appearance of an archaeological ruin. Meanwhile, a crystallised rendition of ET’s bicycle seems to emerge from a large pond. These apparent relics of the modern and ancient ages are placed on land that has been privately owned and sold on through the generations for 1,000 years, this presents us with another twist in our perception of time, something Arsham says he is fond of playing with to challenge us as we view his work.  

‘I've got Pikachu and I've got the Venus of Arles, both rendered in bronze and with these erosions in them. The erosions have crystallisation in them. They may look like they're in a state of decay, but we also associate crystals with growth, right? So, they could either be falling apart, or actually growing to some kind of completion. I like that kind of mixing-up that's happening there.’

sculpture of bicycle on lake

Daniel Arsham, Bronze Extraterrestrial Bicycle, 2022, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

(Image credit: Photo by Anthony Devlin, Getty Images for Daniel Arsham)

Exposed to the elements, Arsham’s works change in the light as it changes throughout the day, and over the seasons that the show is on view. 

Arsham aims to confuse, and relishes the contradictions he throws up in placing cartoon characters alongside ancient sculpture. But these works have more in common than you might think. Pop-cultural touchstones have loomed large throughout our lives, seeming like they have always been there; meanwhile, many ancient works are copies themselves and have been repeatedly altered over the centuries or even millennia. Venus was originally Aphrodite, and was even controversially slimmed down in popular portrayals in the 1920s. Some of these alterations have since been reversed in more recent artistic interpretations. 

sculpture of Venus of Arles

Daniel Arsham, Bronze Eroded Venus of Arles (Large), 2022, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

(Image credit: Anthony Devlin, Getty Images for Daniel Arsham)

By playing with time and shortening history, Arsham is making us aware of the brevity of our existence. He recalls that his childhood home in Florida was destroyed in a hurricane and was rebuilt to be exactly the same. The effects of this experience resurface in his work time and again. From his 365-day NFT to his design work and stage design, he applies his vision seamlessly across disciplines. 

‘The only difference for me is that with architecture or design, it has a specific function. Art, it can have a function, but its function is not defined. Right? It's open. It's purposeless in a way, but in a way, that openness is kind of its purpose.’

Daniel Arsham: 'Relics in the Landscape' is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with no current end date, ysp.org.uk; danielarsham.com

Amah-Rose Abrams is a British writer, editor and broadcaster covering arts and culture based in London. In her decade plus career she has covered and broken arts stories all over the world and has interviewed artists including Marina Abramovic, Nan Goldin, Ai Weiwei, Lubaina Himid and Herzog & de Meuron. She has also worked in content strategy and production.