The Eerie Archaeology of Daniel Arsham

A sculptor beloved by Pharrell and Usher tries his hand at filmmaking.
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A sculptor beloved by Pharrell and Usher tries his hand at filmmaking.
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Conceptual artist Daniel Arsham knows how fast the fetish objects of one era can become the detritus of another. He was 12 when Hurricane Andrew ripped through his family’s home as

he huddled in a closet. The next morning, Arsham wandered around the Miami cul-de-sac, spotting his family’s photos and other belongings. “I don’t remember it as traumatic,” he says. “It was just sort of fascinating.”

It’s not hard to see how the experience informed his artwork, which includes painting, set design, architecture, film, and sculpture, most famously an ongoing series of pieces in which he casts various iconic objects—from a Casio keyboard and a Benz steering wheel to basketballs and boxing trunks—in volcanic ash, obsidian, and other elemental materials.

The haunting result is a little like the Statue of Liberty scene at the end of Planet of the Apes: the disconcerting experience of stumbling on the ruined evidence of our own destruction.

While Arsham’s work is in museum collections around Europe and Asia and has won over legions of fans, including Pharrell Williams and Usher, “the art world has never really welcomed me in,” he says. This fall, the Galerie Perrotin will host his first major solo show in New York. Meanwhile, the artist is set to release his feature-film debut, an eerie nine-part science-fiction epic called Future Relic, starring Juliette Lewis and James Franco.

Despite the apocalyptic thread in his work, Arsham doesn’t lose much sleep over the fate of civilization. “I love the future!” he says. “One thousand percent.”

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