Arts & Culture

Studio Visit with Dystopian Artist Daniel Arsham

We stopped by the Snarkitecture founder's Long Island City studio as he prepared for his latest show with Perrotin New York
Reading time 5 minutes

Photography by Doosoo Kim

Daniel Arsham’s Long Island City art studio is a canvas in and of itself. Blindingly white—including walls, ceiling, embedded art pieces (i.e. a protruding figure trapped between paint and wall frame), and staff uniforms (crisp lab coats)—it’s both chaotic and oddly minimalist. The chaos comes from all the bodies buzzing around the ground floor, an office space shared with art/architecture collaboration Snarkitecture, which Arsham co-founded with Alex Mustonen in 2008, and a multi-room workshop soundtracked by drilling noises.

The second floor conference room, furnished with exacting symmetry by Snarkitecture, features a sprawling, serene view of the East River. It’s where we sit down, cans of La Croix on hand, to talk a bit about his latest exhibition for Perrotin New York titled 3018—the one all the bodies downstairs are helping Arsham prepare for. “This exhibition,” Arsham says, “I've been working on for almost two years, so there's a constant struggle between thinking about new ideas and implementing ones which are two years in the past.”

The new pieces in 3018 perpetuate Arsham’s fascination with destruction and rebuilding. Among the stars is a recast 1961 Ferrari 250GT California, recognizable for its role as an object of lust in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [1986]. Cartoon figures in the shape of Mickey Mouse and Tweetie Bird are blanketed, tied up with rope as if trapped. “When I set out to select those objects, I'm often looking for things that are recognizable across different age sets and cultures,” explains the 38-year-old, “for objects that sort of float in time. I think 50 years from now, they'll still have the same sort of feeling that they do today.

This is one of the reasons Arsham’s fan demographic ranges from young hypebeasts, to the Basel art set, to rappers like Jay-Z and Swiss Beatz. Arsham himself speaks softly and slowly, seemingly shy, the only giveaway of a potential party alter ego are boxes of brightly colored sneakers stowed away on multiple shelves. He’s wearing an equally eye-catching pair of kicks as we tour his studio, flashing the occasional side smile as he talks through his favorite things.


ARSHAM: Here you have these series of cameras: the original M6 that I've had for years, a couple of different film cameras, amazing old Japanese cameras that aren't produced anymore. I mostly shoot travel photos and, even though galleries and museums shoot work when they get it, I usually shoot my own work as well. It's a different way of looking at it. They’re just for my own archive.


ARSHAM: This is a new series of works that will be in the show; I'm showing them for the first time and they're cast books and magazine. But they're fictional titles. So I've combined things that are either influential on me or that represent some sort of unusual combination. The Year Of Magical Thinking is probably my favorite Joan Didion book. I  just think she has a particular way of combining journalism and fiction and, like, this weird mix of two things. And I particularly like that California vibe. I'm just sort of blending these things and selecting things that I may know something about, but they're fictional titles. So these'll be in the show...this studio is just always chaotic [laughs].


ARSHAM: [Here are] a bunch of Future Relic pieces, there's a photo back there of Yuri Gagarin. as an adventurer and somebody who is looking to push the boundary of what humans can do, he took a major terrifying choice to do that. I find his whole universe—the cult of personality around him—interesting. As well as all of technical things related to space travel and NASA.


ARSHAM: Let's go to the bonsai trees. There's a couple of different of different bonsai in here, one of which we made a larger version of. It's part of this garden work at the High Museum in 2015. One is from Florida,  one's about 40 years old, something like that. Right now, in the summer, I sort of let them grow and then they get trimmed back at the end of the summer. here are my bonsai shears. [my co-worker] Austin waters it periodically [laughs]. Austin is definitely the plant expert. I mean there are all different types of trees. One tree is a type of ficus breed that are very resilient—very hard to kill that unless you over water it.


ARSHAM: This is part of a whole series of pieces that have materials that shift. It's a shift in material from the original. That impression of rope in the fabric and...that sort of realism that comes about through them. There's a number of precedence for this kind of concealment of objects, like, works that Man Ray made in the 1930s and 1940s, through to Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapping dildos and things like that. But no fabric or rope in their works.


ARSHAM: This is the scent that I spray into all of the exhibitions. We produced it with Joie. I think scent has the ability to induce memory and—it's not something that I really, like, tell people—but it's just a scent that's in the exhibitions. I selected it from a combination of compounds that I went through with Joie.


3018 runs from September 8 through October 21, 2018, at Galerie Perrotin. 

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