Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Artist that Makes Clouds, Confounding the Architecture

Daniel Arsham has a female pet rabbit named Oliver. They met when she hopped into his Miami studio, a former storage hangar for damaged airplane noses. Now she roams Arsham’s Brooklyn space, a vast room filled with chairs enveloped in billowing sheets cast in plaster and some of the artist’s newest works: clouds of pastel Ping-Pong balls and massive drawings of classical Greek sculptures sprouting geometric growths.

Oliver is one small part of the fairy-tale world that the artist evokes in every medium. This strange universe has its own creation myth, relating to the evolution of his architecturally minded art practice. “I grew up in Miami, and in ’92 there was a hurricane there that I was nearly killed in, with all my family”, Arsham says. A neighboring house’s roof blew off and crashed into the living room, exploding the windows from their frames and coating everything in a fine layer of pink installation foam. “Before that, you understand architecture in a certain way,” he explains. “There’s a solitary about it. I never know what was inside all those things.”

The patriarch of architecturally obsessed art, Gordon Matta-Clark, was interested in those same hidden interiors, the actual contents of a wall—“all this crap running through them: beams, electrical lines, and plumbing”, says Arsham. But while the artist cites Matta-Clark as an inspiration, he wants to go beyond the simple nuts and bolts of his environment to create something more playful. The “Pixel Clouds”, for instance—which , along with the sculptural drawings and a series of larger-than-life motorized children’s toys called “Push Puppets”, will be included in his solo show “Alter” at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, in Miami, from December 1 through 31—are based on cellphone pictures of cumulus, cirrus, and other heavenly formations. These have been blown up to reveal individual pixels and then re-created in three dimensions using painted table-tennis balls.

Arsham’s fixation on the potential of his surroundings—and on catching things in the process of transformation—is also evident in his collaborative architecture practice, dubbed Snarkitecture, and his theatrical sets, which he started making in 2007. That was the year the then-24-year-old artist struck up a friendship with the late choreographer and fellow wry trickster Merce Cunningham. The 84-year-old modern-dance master commissioned him to design a set, specifying only: “Whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t injure my dancers.” Arsham went on to create the last sets on which Cunningham’s troupe performed in his lifetime, in 2009 at La Biennale nationale de danse du Val-de-Marne, near Paris. Now, for Art Basel Miami, the artist has designed a new backdrop for enactments of Cunningham “events”, choreographies determined by dice rolls.

Arsham is intrigued by stories of how John Cage, Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg (Cunningham’s longtime artistic adviser) would “arrive in a place, and Bob would explore and find trash outside to build the set. The first of Rauschenberg’s combine works was made for Cunningham.” For the Miami performances, Arsham will be eschewing trash in favor of EPS foam. Small stages will be constructed on an opera house’s main stage, on which both the dancers and the audience will be positioned. Meanwhile, the hall, left tenantless, will not be entirely empty. “I’m going to do this gigantic pile, like an avalanche, of platonic solids—cubes, pyramids, and speheres—this cascade covering portions of the seats”, says the artist.

Art from Keys, Postcards, Kitten Statues, and eBay

Contemporary artist are ensuring that collecting is less a hobby than an aesthetic statement. Consider Jean Shin and Brian Ripel. Before the duo began creating the work displayed through January 2, 2011, in “Unlocking” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in Arizona, they had to gather a few things—specifically , about thirty thousand disused keys from local businesses and willing individuals. “One friend,” Shin says, “donated the key to her first and favorite car, a 1965 Ford Mustang that she drove to her senior prom.” For Shin and Ripel, keys link their owners to a specific location and time. Their cuts and grooves also look quite a bit like the mountainous Arizona skyline, a resemblance emphasized in a room-size projection of their jagged profiles. The symbolic and visual relationships add up to a community-oriented art experience that encourages viewers to reflect on places they’ve left behind, as well as on the local topography.

The connections among geography, technology, and memory are explored in a different manner by Zoe Leonard, whose installation “You see I am here after all” is on view through January 9 at Dia Beacon. The work is composed of several thousand postcards of Niagara Falls collected from online sites and flea markets. Dating to the first half of the 20th century, many exhibit early forms of photo manipulation, such as hand coloring, cropping, and overpainting. Individually each card is a vessel for a single memory. Taken as a whole, they represent a moment in the history of photography when technology began transforming natural wonders into tourist destinations.

Another avid collector, Patrick Jackson builds his “Tchotchke Stacks” out of kitschy statuettes bought at thrift stores. The Virgin Mary, sad clowns, goats, and kittens all inhabit the works, which can be seen at Nicole Klagsbun’s Art Basel Miami booth or through February 11 in the group show “Fetishes of Crisis” at CAPC Musee d’art contemporain de Bordeaux. Jackson is most interested in the weight-bearing capacity of his knickknacks , which he meticulously stacks on sheets of glass, making them function architecturally. Others prefer to scour eBay for their raw material, as Hanne Mugaas does in Secondary Market, 2010, an assortment of online-purchased goods repurposed as an installation, on view as part of the New Museum’s exhibition “Free” through January 23, 2011. For all these artist, the goal is to collect in quantity, but this never diminishes each object’s individuality.