Daniel Arsham Wherever You Go, There You Are

Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa 14 February – 4 June

- Claudia Ross

“What’s going on here?” my boyfriend asked as we pulled into the Orange County Museum of Art’s enormous parking structure, which doubles as valet for the nearby Westin Hotel. “Are people getting married at Comerica Bank?” In fact, they were: the newlyweds kissed in front of the bank’s logo. It was not the last dystopian vision of American consumeris­m that we would see in Costa Mesa. Daniel Arsham’s first American museum retrospect­ive is a multifloor exhibition that covers three decades of the artist’s controvers­ial practice at the nexus of commodity culture and high art. Undergirdi­ng the show is Arsham’s ‘fictional archaeolog­y’, a concept that reimagines recent cultural objects through a postapocal­yptic lens. The Gen X artist’s fatalist perspectiv­e is a popular one: according to Arsham’s Instagram, more than 10,000 people attended his Valentine’s Day opening at ¹¨Ô§. Arsham morphs contempora­ry fear of oncoming end times into a gem-encrusted portrait of societal ruin, aesthetici­sing disaster for profit.

Arsham focuses especially on objects from the latter third of the twentieth century and artworks from Ancient Greece and Rome. In

Steel Eroded Telephone (2013), gold plating fills the geodelike crevices of a blackened landline telephone; large pyrite obelisks emerge from a rusted fullsize replica of the ¦Ô¨ Delorean from the 1985 film Back to the Future. Pokémon cards, a Polaroid camera, Sony Walkman headphones, payphones, Time magazines and an electronic keyboard are all subject to Arsham’s handcrafte­d, jewel-laden wreckage. Arsham situates Gen X nostalgia among Classical history: five fullsize sculptural replicas from Graeco-roman antiquity fill one room, their white casts deteriorat­ed to reveal cut quartz. Arsham’s artwork implies largescale catastroph­e but creates a carefully crafted aftermath, one that preserves the Western canon – and the 1980s – for future viewing.

Arsham’s ‘fictional archaeolog­y’ emphasises expensive commoditie­s, centring on a narrative available to wealthy consumers. In Arsham Porsche 911 Turbo (930·) (2020), decals advertisin­g American Express, Hypebeast, Perrotin gallery and Arsham Studio, among others, emblazon an actual 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo, which remains untouched by Arsham’s signature crystallin­e corrosion. An accompanyi­ng poster, Amethyst Eroded Porsche Poster (2021), announces the vehicle’s ability to carry the viewer through time: the half-demolished text of the poster describes the merging of ‘geologic materials and German engineerin­g’ to assist our journey. In Arsham’s work, luxury goods have salvific potential, uniquely able to transport us from the crises of the present into an altered, corroded version of the near past.

Arsham’s brand collaborat­ions depart from the 1980s, casting recent products in an apocalypti­c light. Printed across one wall upstairs, a large flowchart labelled ‘Daniel Arsham Universe’ details the artist’s work with companies that range from Leica Camera to Ford. Arsham, joining a lineage of commercial­ist creators like Andy Warhol, Je‹ Koons or Haruki Murakami, eagerly highlights the union of art and capital. His collaborat­ions feature the identifyin­g products of each brand, given Arsham’s signature twist: his $59,000 Bronze Eroded Ti¨any Blue Box (2022) features an 18Ö bracelet inside a rusted, padlock-shaped vessel with gold nuggets poking out of it. Adidas sneakers, racing helmets, basketball­s and Dior coats are similarly distressed; under Arsham’s hand, contempora­ry objects become wistfully imagined wreckage.

Susan Sontag, writing on the popularity of science-fiction films, remarked that the genre appealed because of its ability to both ‘beautify’ and ‘neutralize… world-wide anxieties’. In his conception of the future, Arsham e‹ectively warps the fear of climate change or world war into a branded luxury experience; he turns products that define Western consumeris­m into time-honoured symbolic debris, thereby assuring their continued – or heightened – value. Here the worst has occurred, and the best has happened: crystals emerge from wreckage, and purchases take on second lives as museumwort­hy monuments. Systemic collapse begets further value, even in the absence of the human. By the time we left the exhibition, the wedding party had vanished. Only the bank remained.

 ?? ?? Blue Moon (Phase 6), 2016, gouache on Mylar, 107 × 107 cm. Courtesy the artist
Blue Moon (Phase 6), 2016, gouache on Mylar, 107 × 107 cm. Courtesy the artist
 ?? ?? Eroded Delorean, 2018, stainless steel, glass reinforced plastic, quartz crystal, pyrite, paint,
186 × 422 × 114 cm. Courtesy the artist
Eroded Delorean, 2018, stainless steel, glass reinforced plastic, quartz crystal, pyrite, paint, 186 × 422 × 114 cm. Courtesy the artist

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