Daniel Arsham

Interview with contemporary artist DANIEL ARSHAM

Daniel Arsham

Daniel Arsham is known for conceptual artworks that transport viewers to new worlds. We talked with him in his New York studio about his popular Fictional Archeology series and asked him how his upcoming UT collaboration came to be.

Daniel Arsham x Pokémon

The place where Danei's artwork is created.

Daniel Arsham—whose enormous influence extends to art, fashion, and street culture—works out of a studio located along the East River in Long Island City, with a clear view of Manhattan’s skyline. It is a white, warehouselike space staffed by just over a dozen employees. Here, visitors get to enjoy an upclose look of Arsham’s works, both old and new. Highlights include a Leica camera that appears to have been carbonized, a pair of Air Jordans that seem to have crystallized, and sculptures based on Pikachu. These are all works in a series that Arsham calls Fictional Archeology.

“If we take any object from today, like a camera or a phone, and imagine it 1000 years from now, it would look like an archeological object,” Arsham explains. “It would be degrading, made of volcanic ash or crystals. So, for example, the Pikachu is from now, but by making it look eroded and very old, we create confusion about time—because this is what is supposed to happen in the future.”

Daniel Arsham

In this lab-like room, filled with a wide range of materials, Arsham’s staff individually work on different parts of his work.

Mixing truth with fiction to present new perspectives.

In this way, the series mixes truth with fiction to accomplish something that is generally considered impossible: controlling time.

“For me, it was about extending some of the ideas that were present in my other work about taking people outside of the everyday,” Arsham says. “Sometimes, that can be done through physical sculpture, and sometimes through an idea—in this case, the idea that time is fluid and malleable, and the idea of taking an object from today and imagining it as an archeological relic in the future. When people see these works, there is a very strong reaction.”

Arsham says it was a trip to Easter Island that inspired the series. “When we think of archeology, we often think it’s definitive,” he says. “But with the statues on Easter Island, the archeologists don’t agree about their origins.

Any time doubt appears where we expect certainty, it opens up the world to an infinite number of possibilities. Those who find that notion exciting rather than daunting will experience a similar thrill when encountering Arsham’s art.

Daniel Arsham

On the main floor of Arsham’s studio, works in progress share shelf space with Arsham’s past works. In the foreground is one of his latest works—a classical porcelain bust degraded to look like an archeological object.

Making of wearable “Fictional Archeology”.

As part of his current project, Arsham is collaborating with UT to produce seven T-shirts that reference his Fictional Archeology series. The shirts feature printed graphics based on some of the most popular Pokémon—one of many iconic motifs that Arsham incorporates in his work.

“In my own work, I’ve always tried to look for iconic objects or characters that are globally recognizable. When we go to the future, we see the luminance of this time illustrated through icons of global culture, like Pokémon.” he says. “Pokémon is an export from Japan known everywhere in the world. So, I made some sculptures of Pikachu and a couple of the other characters, and the people from Pokémon saw these sculptures. That’s what led to our collaboration. They even gave me the three dimensional files of each character so I could use them as references for my sculptures.”

Each T-shirt features a main design based on Arsham’s original drawings—valuable materials that rarely leave his studio. “When I do sculpture, I always make drawings beforehand,” he says. “I’ve never really shown the drawings, but it seemed like a good opportunity to use them for the T-shirts—not the drawings as is, but something that translates well to the graphics that UT is known for.”

Daniel Arsham

The studio is a spacious, minimalist environment that combines office rooms and workspaces. Works past and present decorate the floor, ceiling, and walls.

Bringing Arsham’s art to the masses via Pokémon T-shirts

The Daniel Arsham × Pokémon UT shirts are scheduled to go on sale on this spring at UNIQLO stores around the world. Arsham is excited about the opportunity to present his work to a much wider audience.

“With many of my projects, I try to make work that’s not just for art people,” he says, “and I think UNIQLO has a similar egalitarian culture. The reasonI feature iconic characters in my work is that they are very recognizable and, on the surface, they make it easy to enter my work. Once you’re inside, things get more complicated, but it’s easy to enter.” Arsham says he likes UNIQLO because it offers a similarly low threshold for entry. “My kids have all the Kaws stuff, and they were excited about the Star Wars T-shirts,” he says. “As for me, I have UNIQLO socks and underwear—all black.”

©2020 Pokémon. TM, ® Nintendo. ©Daniel Arsham Courtesy of Nanzuka


Daniel Arsham | Arsham was born in Ohio. He spent his childhood in Miami, where he acquired a fondness for sneakers and street culture.His first artistic collaboration—a sculpture with Japanese illustrator Hajime Sorayama—was unveiled last year at 2G in Shibuya Parco, Tokyo.