Daniel Arsham’s Market, from Limited-Edition Toys to Futuristic Fossils
Portrait of the Daniel Arsham by James Law. Courtesy of the artist.
There are few artists who generate a buzz quite like Daniel Arsham. Last year, the New York–based artist was rarely out of the headlines thanks to his high-profile brand collaborations, boundary-bending architecture projects, and unprecedented hiring as the creative director of a professional sports team. For the past 15 years, the market for this multidisciplinary artist has been rising steadily—but 2020 was his biggest year yet.
The range of Arsham’s work makes it difficult to talk about his market as a singular entity. His practice is marked by ambitious collaborations and multifarious projects spanning performance, design, architecture, and fashion. A case in point is Loop (2017)—the four-part suspended marble run totalling 1,300 feet in length, designed by Snarkitecture, the architecture firm he co-founded with Alex Mustonen. This nostalgic reinterpretation of an iconic childhood game is typical of Arsham’s wider body of work, which often probes notions of time and memory.
Daniel Arsham, Blue Calcite Eroded Bust of Laocoön, 2020. Photo by Claire Dorn. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
“Daniel’s practice, to date, has orbited around a fascination with time, both how to disrupt it and use it as a material,” said a spokesperson for Perrotin, the gallery that represents Arsham. “He has an inherent understanding of how we collectively respond to memory and uses stunningly exact cultural touchstones, which can include everything from cartoon characters and cars to fashion and film.”
In his editioned toys and sculptures, this fascination often manifests in haunting, disintegrating artifacts of contemporary items. In his popular “Future Relics” series, Arsham imagines a variety of everyday objects—cameras, cassette players, mobile phones—as futuristic fossils made out of hydrostone, plaster, broken glass, and quartz crystals. Last year he adapted these same materials for unique works at his “Paris 3020” exhibition at Perrotin, recreating iconic busts, friezes, and sculptures from classical antiquity as large-scale crystallized sculptures. The gallery sold a related sculpture, Amethyst Eroded Bust of Apollo, from Vaison la Romaine (2020), at the online edition of Art Basel in Basel last June for $42,000.
Back in time
Daniel Arsham, Cave of the Sublime, Iceland, 2020. Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
Recently, the artist returned to painting during quarantine after an almost decade-long hiatus. Drawing from the 17th-century style of Italian Capriccio painting, his large-scale paintings portray iconic antiquities rendered as cultural relics and positioned in cinematic landscapes such as a cave, a tropical jungle, a desert, and an ice cavern. These paintings go on display tomorrow alongside a new series of characters from the Pokémon universe in Arsham’s new exhibition at Perrotin in New York, “Time Dilation.”
Arsham started his career at New York’s Cooper Union School of Art, where he trained as a painter. After graduating in 2003, he returned to his native Miami to set up an artist-run space, dubbed The House, with friends. It was through this project that Arsham met gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin, who started representing him in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Arsham became widely known for designing several sets for the famed choreographer Merce Cunningham at the age of 25.
Ever since this first Cunningham collaboration put Arsham on the map, the artist’s trajectory has been marked by high-profile collaborations with names like Kim Jones, Hajime Sorayama, and Pharrell Williams. “In each collaboration, whether it be related to performance, music, fashion, or sports, the artist has reached new audiences, inviting new enthusiasts into his universe who may not have encountered the work otherwise,” the Perrotin spokesperson said.
Action at the high and low ends
Daniel Arsham, Amethyst Crystallized Large Gengar, 2020. Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin. ©2021 Pokemon. ©1995–2021 Nintendo/Creatures Inc./GAME FREAK inc.
Some of Arsham’s collaborations veer into the realm of merchandise, opening up lower price points for new collectors. Last year, the artist collaborated with Uniqlo’s UT division to produce a range of Pokémon T-shirts that sold for $14.90 on Uniqlo’s website, and have since found a lively secondary market on the online marketplace StockX.
At the other end of Arsham’s market, his unique works have received growing institutional support, with five museum solo shows in the last three years, beginning with the 2018 Wall House Museum exhibition in St. Barthélemy. Last year, he opened a solo show at the Musée Guimet in Paris (which is on view through March), and the year before, the HOW Museum in Shanghai, the Cranbrook Museum in Detroit, and the MOCO Museum in Amsterdam all opened shows of his work.
Daniel Arsham, Blue Calcite Eroded Nymph with a Shell, 2020. Photo by Claire Dorn. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
These institutional exhibitions and high-profile collaborations have helped fuel a newly turbocharged market. According to Artsy data, the number of users inquiring on works by Arsham on the platform has been steadily trending upward over the past five years, increasing more than elevenfold from 2016 to 2020. Last year, he had the 13th-most demand among artists on Artsy. Last year was also his biggest year on the secondary market; though his work has been appearing at auction since 2008, sales in 2020 accounted for more than half of his all-time auction appearances to date.
Emmanuelle Chan, associate specialist for Christie’s Asian 20th-century and contemporary art department in Paris, said high demand for Arsham’s work on the secondary market is a very recent development. The first Arsham work sold at Christie’s was a gouache-on-mylar piece, Philip Johnson Proposal (2004), which sold for a third of its low estimate at an auction in January 2011. “Back then the Arsham market was a fraction of what it is today,” she explained. “It really picked up in 2019 only, and that’s when we really had a lot of demand from our clients.”
The recent boost in Arsham’s market coincided with his 2019 “Perpetual Present” exhibition at the HOW Museum in Shanghai—his first solo exhibition in China and a revelatory introduction to Asian audiences. Today, Arsham’s market is truly international, with collectors in North America, Europe, and Asia.
According to Chan, Arsham is bought by a lot of “young, hip collectors,” who identify with Arsham’s recreation of familiar objects from their childhoods in the 1980s and ’90s—most notably his iconic Gameboy and Pokémon editioned sculptures. She said his various styles and bodies of work have a broad appeal with these collectors, but that the subject matter is often more important than medium or period.
Daniel Arsham x Pokémon, Blue Crystalized Pikachu, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020. ©2021 Pokemon. ©1995–2021 Nintendo/Creatures Inc./GAME FREAK inc.
Daniel Arsham x Dior, Future Relic Eroded Clock, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020.
When Christie’s held its “Archeology of the Future” online sale of Arsham’s work in June 2020 in Hong Kong, his Dior and Pokémon collaborations were the most sought-after. A Dior “Future Relic” eroded clock sold for HK$162,500 (US$20,900), and one of his renditions of Pikachu sold for three times its low estimate, or HK$93,750 (US$12,000). Arsham’s art toy collaboration with Sorayama and Be@rbrick was also popular. “Anything that was a collaboration, where the name sounds very familiar for the Asian market, did very well,” said Chan.
The overall result, a so-called “white-glove sale”—where every lot sells—saw one-third of the lots sell above their high estimates and was a testament to the incredible growth of Arsham’s secondary market in recent years. The proportion of new buyers participating in the Christie’s sale—65% of all buyers—is also telling. “That’s a huge number,” said Chan. “And it just shows that people who are not usually interested in collecting art in the very broad sense were interested in collecting Daniel Arsham works.”
Arsham’s collector base transcends that of the traditional art market in part because he engages a young audience through social media and his understanding of the “drop culture” that is prevalent in luxury fashion. Arsham piques interest on social media by “unboxing” his work on Instagram and then announcing its release time, often prompting a flurry of visits to his website. In 2018, he dropped his first edition of Hollow Figure (2018) on his website for $950 and it sold out within three minutes. Last year, editions of Hollow Figure repeatedly fetched upwards of $2,000 at auction.
In spite of his international reputation and engaged collector base, Chan believes the prices for Arsham’s works don’t yet reflect their true value. The world record for an Arsham work sold at auction, set at a Phillips sale in Hong Kong in November 2019, stands at HK$2.3 million (US$295,470). “For an internationally recognized artist with exhibitions in museums like Guimet, who has sold out shows in Japan, in New York, and Paris; for someone who’s making intelligent art…I definitely think that it’s still on the undervalued side,” she said. “I think that the market will continue to be very interested.”
The Perrotin spokesperson, meanwhile, predicted that as the boundary-bending artist continues to evolve both his own individual practice and the scope of his collaborative projects, he will further challenge the understanding of what it means to be a contemporary artist. As the spokesperson put it: “We foresee a future where Arsham continues to expand not only his own market, but the mold of a market within the fine art sector.”