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Daniel Arsham’s “The Undoing” at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin. By David Rohn

Daniel Arsham, “Double Door”, 2008. Mixed media. 92 1/2 x 73 x 10 inches.1/1. Photo by Mariano C. Peuser. Courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami/Paris.

The entry point to Daniel Arsham’s new show at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin Miami is literally an entrance. In a Lewis Carol/Doors of perception-esq bid to engender a sense of his own wonderland, the artist has constructed a type of concealed pivot door from sheet rock. Set into this façade is a realistic yet functionless midget door. From the outside its appearance is pseudo-Victorian, from the inside it changes style to a more modern aluminum and glass indicative of a discreet European cosmetic surgery clinic, or perhaps the gallery in which it is housed. Although the midget doors sadly don’t work, the pivoting sheet rock wall does. Presumably this complex, somewhat beguiling door-event is intended to be read as a transition into another world of some sort, or perhaps ‘the other side’.

Immediately we get the sense that things aren’t what they seem, and that experience is about contradictory signs. There is an unsettling quietness to the transition from the rest of the gallery into Arsham’s exhibition, which appears dimly lit and somewhat eerie. As one moves from one arena to the next they get the sense that they have osmosized almost unwittingly into parallel space of some form or another but what is more subtle still (and of course notable) is the sense of mystery that pervades the experience on the other side of the door(s).

Installation view of Daniel Arsham‘s ‘The Undoing’ at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami, 2008. Photo by Mariano C. Peuser. Courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami/Paris.

The unsettling legs at the far end of the gallery protruding from beneath plaster-formed drapery seem infinitely more alive than a similar work by Robert Gober some years back. In the context of this show the legs, a counterpart to an unsettling corporeal form, contribute to a sense that both space and mass are infinitely transgressible. Gober’s leg appeared to be more about being stuck where as Arsham’s legs are about departure; crawling off into the rabbit warren or disappearing into a solid wall.

The present sense of transgressible space and dissolvable mass is further reinforced by one of Arsham’s signature erosion pieces installed into the galleries East wall. Through a sculpted cluster of whorls, eating through the structure of the gallery like acid, it ‘erodes’ into the adjacent showroom where with the right kind of stoop, one can clearly see a multiple frame photographic piece by Leandro Erlich. Following many similar freestanding works that have been produced over the past few years such as the ones exhibited at Art Basel Miami Beach and Art LA last year, in addition to a similar, earlier, and less convincing commission for Dior Homme (also in LA), Arsham’s technique finally seems to have found a home.

Daniel ARSHAM,”Wall Erosion (Passage)”, 2008. EPS, plaster, paint, joint compound. 45 1/2 x 55 x 17 inches.1/1. Photo by Mariano C. Peuser. Courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami/Paris.

Close by there is a mail slot set into a wall with plaster formed drapery spewing forth like waves or the breath of a Chinese Dragon. Beautifully crafted and suggestive of inverted process or function (like mail being regurgitated); this piece too suggests that space continues beyond the confines of the white cube. A cerebral manifestation that again enables the idea that elements are in constant flow back and forth from their mysterious origins.

A spherical brass doorknob with a traditional ‘old-house look’ set into a blank wall refers back to the entrance sculptures. A subtle detail is that the knob is feverishly spinning (presumably from a motor buried inside the wall) is a consistent touch: part humor, part mystery, part reference to the perpetual universal movement that distinguishes solid and vaporous mass.

Daniel Arsham,”Rising Beam”, 2008. Gouache on Double Sided Mylar, frame. 20 x 28 x 1 1/2 inches. 1/1. Photo by Mariano C. Peuser. Courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami/Paris.

Despite the refinement of much of Arsham’s recent sculptural quirks, the exhibition also sees a ‘Return’(pardon the pun) to the artists much loved gouache drawings as seen in his series “The Return” and other works exploring the visually contrasting relationship between architectural and natural forms with a muted grey/green palette. Here, nine gouache drawings (this time with slightly more lurid colors) are the most numerous element in the show and they contribute substantially to the sense of mystery through their carefully rendered aural lighting and exploding/imploding structures.

The structures depicted here appear as monolithic planes and beams that appear to be flying apart and disassembling, or perhaps flying together and assembling forming Di Suvero-esq sculptural compositions. Whichever event is taking place, Arsham has successfully retained his ability to convey the importance and character of both artificial forms and otherwise all natural environments, now illuminated with a peculiar ‘Close Encounters’ style lighting.

Daniel Arsham, “Together”, 2008. Gouache on Double Sided Mylar, frame. 45 x 64 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches. 1/1. Photo by Mariano C. Peuser. Courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami/Paris.

These are intriguing. They seem to suggest that despite the intrinsic values of physics that the coming together and splitting apart of objects are somehow equal events. This is a striking idea in the context of a culture that places great value of the assembling of things– The Judeo-Christian God is primarily a creator, unlike Lord Shiva, for example, who creates AND destroys. Being for the most part a country of the Judeo-Christian God we often wind up without a theological explanation for natural disasters (for example) and are forced to define them as punishments instead of reversals, or as inevitable consequences of a process of recreation.

The linking of construction and destruction also brings up analysis as process; in other words the way in which we disassemble and reassemble things, both conceptual and physical, in order to understand them better or to improve upon them. Is the total greater that the sum of its parts, like the USA or the European Union, or are the parts of greater value individually like a chop-shopped Toyota? Or is the world’s economic order flying apart or reassembling into a better more functional structure?

Perhaps the point is that although in the material world it seems more useful to put things together; in the realm of the intellect it is at least as useful to take them apart.

This exhibition may not hold together as tightly as the entrance’s door structure seems to proclaim but as a statement about ‘signs’ and ‘functional facts’ it can at least be taken as a starting point for a dialogue about space, mass, process and their reversal, assembly and disassembly. What is really notable here is that the artist has outlined contradictory and complementary aspects of fundamental structures of thoughts and ideas of ether and of matter in the context of process (natural and human) in a sparing and down to earth way; and without turning the whole thesis into played out intellectual chore.

Instead, the aesthetic message seems to be that the ebb and flow of cosmic and natural processes are mysterious, enigmatic and ironic. And that above all, at a time when we often feel most disconnected from nature, there can in fact be no separation as even our very thought processes mirror those of nature itself [.]


–David Rohn


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Daniel Arsham’s “The Undoing” at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin. By David Rohn