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A New Exhibit Offers a Rare Glimpse Into Daniel Arsham’s World

Including portraits of friends like A$AP Rocky and the late Virgil Abloh.

Artist Spotlight
A New Exhibit Offers a Rare Glimpse Into Daniel Arsham’s World

For Daniel Arsham, creativity is a constant practice. The multidisciplinary artist sculpts larger-than-life busts, paints fantastical scenes blending antiquity and anime, collaborates with brands like Hot Wheels and Pokemon, and designs spaces for Kith and Hudson Yards through his firm Snarkitecture. Along the way, he photographs everything.

Arsham’s photographic practice is now getting its due for the first time ever with an exhibition at Fotografiska New York called "Daniel Arsham: PHASES," accompanied by a hardcover monograph featuring more than 1,000 never-before-seen images. The works on display give a sense of how the artist sees the world, whether he’s looking at a skyline, a streetscape, or one of his famous friends (A$AP Rocky and the late Virgil Abloh both make appearances).

The images have an immediacy and informality that set them apart from his work in other mediums, which fits with his approach to the practice. As Arsham said in an interview with Fotografiska, “Photography for me was never about artwork”—at least not in the same sense as a sculpture or even a drawing. “I always used it more as a kind of documentation, a way to record experiences or places.”

For this reason, among others, he couldn’t rely on his usual process when deciding what to put in the exhibit—a challenge even after combing through nearly 200,000 images to reach the edit found in the book.

Leandro Justen

“Typically when I'm putting together an exhibition in a gallery, it's thematic or I'm really thinking about how the works might relate to each other,” he said. His other pieces “were made with the intention of showing the work; they were made with the intention of people seeing them and creating a kind of universe. The photography has nothing to do with that.”

The show does offer a glimpse inside Arsham’s universe, though, pairing images—some framed traditionally, some freestanding and backlit—with trompe l’oeil sculptures and handwritten labels (“Forever a Barn in Upstate NY on a February Morning”). In one striking image of A$AP Rocky, the rapper’s eyes are masked with a plume of smoke as he exhales from his joint. Nearby, a plaster figure appears to be draped in a sheet blown backward in the wind.

The sculptural works “were brought in to sort of counter the photos and create a different sense of scale,” Arsham explained. “Typically I would never do a show in a space like this that's that dark.” For photography, of course, darkness is necessary to prevent fading—but luckily the artist is never one to shy away from trying something new.

“Failure is a big part of art practice,” he said. “Probably anything that you do that's successful and the more that you can put things out into the world and fail, the more potential you have for doing something interesting.”

As for what Arsham hopes visitors will take away from the exhibit (other than a copy of the book), “a sense of curiosity” is the goal. He doesn’t ascribe a particular meaning to his photographic work, leaving the viewer to form their own ideas. “It's really an invitation to think.”

“Daniel Arsham: PHASES” is on view at Fotografiska, 281 Park Ave South, New York, through June 14.

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