Artist Daniel Arsham on loving cars, and eroding them

Artist Daniel Arsham on loving cars, and eroding them

We speak to American artist Daniel Arsham about his deep-seated passion for supercars and the drive behind his exhibition of eroded automobiles in Detroit – including a Porsche 930 Turbo and Ford Mustang GT

Daniel Arsham loves cars. He also likes eroding stuff. It’s this alluring (yet apocalyptic) combination that gives his latest show, ‘Turning Wrenches’ at Library Street Collective in Detroit, so much fuel. 

Arsham has produced intensely detailed 1:3 scale replicas of supercars and other automotive artefacts as a tribute to the Detroit automotive industry and global car culture. There are also homages to the film industry, where the choice of a character’s vehicle is often an extension of their personality.

The miniature Mustang in the exhibition is a scale replica of the 1968 Ford Mustang GT that Steve McQueen drove during the gripping car chase in the film Bullitt. Elsewhere, a Ferrari references the 1986 comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and a bronze iteration of a DMC DeLorean (the famed time machine in 1985 sci-fi film Back to the Future) take things up a gear. 

Installation view of Daniel Arsham, ’Turning Wrenches’, featuring car sculptures of a Ferrari (left) and DMC Delorean (right)
Installation view of Daniel Arsham, ’Turning Wrenches’, featuring sculptures of a Ferrari (left) and DMC DeLorean (right). Images by PD Rearick. Courtesy of Library Street Collective

The Delorean also speaks to the role of time in Arsham’s work, which nods to a simultaneous past and future. When a car begins to erode, it’s usually an indication of a one-way trip to the scrap heap. And while industrial objects inevitably fall victim to time, Arsham’s approach to decay offers his cars new life, with strategically placed erosions erupting with dazzling masses of crystals.

This show, staged in Library Street Collective’s Snarkitecture-designed space, is an ode to the laborious and culturally rich automobile trade, appetising eye candy for petrolheads, and an exploration of how the fragility of man-made objects can collide with the tenacity of geological material. 

Daniel Arsham on the drive behind his new turbo-charged show

Portrait of Daniel Arsham in his studio featuring car sculptures for a new show at Library streett collective, Detroit

Wallpaper*: What is so exciting about cars, and car culture, and when did this fascination begin?

Daniel Arsham: I’ve had a fascination with cars in general since I was a kid. Cars, to me, have always had an ability to create a sense of time travel. You can get into a perfectly restored car from the 1970s or 1990s, and there’s a very visceral sense of what it felt like to drive in those eras. 

I was also drawn to Porsches from an early age, which led to me eventually purchasing and restoring a 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo. A replica of the restored Porsche, re-interpreted as a 930A, is featured in the exhibition at Library Street Collective as a 1:3 scale replica.  

Daniel Arsham sculpture of a Porsche

W*: How did you decide which car models to base these sculptures on? 

DA: All of the sculptures on view at Library Street Collective are based on iconic car models. For example, the Ferrari is the car most famously used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the DMC DeLorean is famous in its own right for its use in Back to the Future. All of these cars are part of automobile history but also cinematic history. 

The star of the show is the 1968 Ford Mustang GT from Steve McQueen’s movie Bullitt. I worked with the film’s prop master to create a one-to-one scaled model. The final eroded version consists of volcanic ash, pyrite crystal, and white quartz. 

There is also the connection to the history of Detroit, which is inextricably linked to automotive design. John DeLorean was an American car executive who, after leaving General Motors, formed his own company, the DeLorean Motor Company. We also included the Ford Mustang, a Detroit icon introduced in 1964 that revolutionised American cars.

Daniel Arsham’s sculpture of a black Ford Mustang

W*: What was the most challenging part of creating this new series?

DA: The most complex piece in the exhibition is the cast of the Ferrari. It’s composed of 35 pieces that all had to be cast individually and then assembled together. Any time you make an object that has an interior and exterior, it becomes much more complex. 

W*: You’re a passionate car collector. If you had to choose one car in your collection, which would it be and why?

DA: If I had to choose one car, it would be the 1973 Porsche Carrera 2.7 RS. It’s a legendary car and one I was able to acquire a year and a half ago. It’s truly a ‘supercar’ from that era – it had the largest engine at the time, and driving it is an incredible, visceral experience. It’s also not as insular as modern cars, so you sense every turn, every aspect of the engine, and the transfer of power from the engine to the road. §

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