Local heroes are hard to come by in Miami. Whether born in South Florida or early transplants, those that make it big usually permanently migrate up north, leaving the city that raised them behind. But not internationally acclaimed artist Daniel Arsham.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Arsham moved to Miami at an early age. In 1999, he graduated high school, won the prestigious YoungArts scholarship, and moved away attend Cooper Union in New York. Since then he's been an art-world darling, showing his work — sculptural and architectural pieces with a bent towards pop culture — all over the world. Last week, he unveiled his most recent project, an interactive installation entitled The Future Was Written, at the YoungArts Campus in midtown.
"On the ground floor there are hundreds or thousands of objects that are cast in chalk. So imagine all of these objects, which are taking the form of things from your past," Arsham told New Times. "Things that you might have remembered like old phones and cameras. Things largely related to communication, including facial expressions and gestures. These will be used to create drawing and writing on the walls of this space. The object is for people to create writing on the wall of the space — creating impressions of the future using objects of your past."
The piece comes with a curated exhibition of selected works from Arsham's career. As an artist he's interested in the notion of historical construction, whether of the past, present, or future. His sculptures, ostensibly concrete casts of salient modern artifacts — basketballs, electric guitars, pay phones, etc. — are projections of what archeological specimens will look like at some point in time. Arsham points out the vacuousness of intellectual culture by casting these pop objects in a decayed or decaying medium. The exhibit was curated by Pérez Art Museum Miami Director Franklin Sirmans.
"Sirmans, I’ve known for several years ever since I made an exhibition in Philadelphia at the Fabric Workshop," Arsham explains. "He got in touch with me, and it was a discussion about creating a large-scale intervention, the kind of scale and work that wouldn’t normally be seen in one of the galleries that I work with. So we divided the space into an installation and collaboration with the audience on the ground floor, and then on the upstairs there are other works of mine that fall into this fictional archeological world."
The city is very different than when Arsham left in 1999. The emergence of Art Basel, the real estate boom, and increasing gentrification of downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods have drastically altered the creative landscape with mixed results. Yet, the artist remains positive about the state of Miami's artistic community:
"I think that Miami is an amazing place for perusing an early career as an artist," he says.
Between the magnet programs, museums, and art-centered events around town, budding creatives have a wealth spring of platforms to take advantage of. YoungArts is a big part of the new opportunities available to young artists. Founded over 34 years ago, YoungArts is a national foundation providing access to arts education and enrichment.
While young artists have plenty of chances to showcase and nurture their emerging talents in Miami, Arsham still thinks the opportunities for mature artists to break into the international scene are limited. "I did find it difficult to reach a more international audience, which is part of the reason I moved to New York. I think that Miami has expanded heavily, and one of the things that we see frequently is that artists get pushed to the fringes of neighborhoods."
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With the effects of gentrification pushing professional artists out of Wynwood and into adjoining neighborhoods like Little River, Little Haiti, and Allapattah, Arsham's warning couldn't be more prescient. As the summer heat eases up and Basel preparations begin to take shape, it's easy to lose sight of the small band of local artists that keep Miami's culture pumping.
The city's future continues to be in constant flux, caught somewhere between a past of hurried expansion and a future that's precariously venturing on the path towards increasing inequality. Yet, Arsham's current exhibition urges viewers to act as the agents of their own community's journey, giving shape and form to a hazy dream.
"The Future Was Written" is on view at the National YoungArts Campus through December 11. Entry in free and open to the public during gallery hours, Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends by appointment.