Daniel Arsham Wildly Surpasses His Prior Endeavors With ‘Amethyst Sports Ball Cavern’

  |  Topic: Art, Atlanta Teen Voices, Culture, Reviews
By Holyn Thigpen

Contemporary artist Daniel Arsham’s “Hourglass” exhibition opened this month at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. Accompanying Arsham’s two other works (“Japanese Garden” and “Hourglass”) is “Amethyst Sports Ball Cavern,” a sculptural masterpiece that exactly what its title indicates.

The piece is constructed entirely of fractured, purple volleyballs and tennis balls, hundreds of them piled against each other to form a cave-like passageway which visitors are encouraged to walk through. At the other end of this cavernous crawl space awaits a single, full-length mirror and what Arsham has called his “future relic:” a glowing basketball mounted atop a pole, brightly lit and shining with an amethyst-obsidian coating.

To call this piece transformative would be an understatement. Arsham has wildly surpassed his prior endeavors in artistic immersion. While formerly experimenting only in the dugout trenches of excavated art galleries and drywall, “Amethyst Sports Ball Cavern” is Arsham’s first fully realized architectural space and most extensive endeavor thus far. Though still maintaining his trademark structural experimentation, historical inquiry and satirical wit, this exhibition also marks Arsham’s first major venture into color. He has truly outdone himself in his creation of an environment that is philosophically stimulating and self-aware, challenging many of his past works on the absurdity of everyday life and humanity.

[Related: Click here for Jolisa’s experience at the same High Museum exhibit.]

“Cavern” is brimming with themes of decay and the passage of time, concepts Arsham has been consistent with in past exhibitions. Volleyballs and tennis balls, common objects in the 21st century home, are stripped from their contemporary existence and instead appear as ancient artifacts, stacked atop one another, broken, and coated in purple-amethyst dust. It seems that at every turn, Arsham is challenging what it means to live in the now — presenting almost paradoxical images of the commonplace objects we cherish fading into crumbling oblivion. It is impossible to venture through the exhibit without feeling an impending sense of doom, as if all of the sports balls will collapse at any given moment, and perhaps that is what Arsham is intent on proving: life as we know it is fleeting. As time goes by, objects and ideas lose their presence and slip below the surface, into caverns, like they never existed at all.

The basketball centerpiece of “Cavern,” brightened by a single bulb, sheds light on this concept of passing time (literally and figuratively) by functioning as a centerpiece and highlighting the rows of balls surrounding it. Another innovative concept on Arsham’s part, it creates an aura of hidden absurdity — these concepts of time are right under people’s noses but often fail to be acknowledged. In fact, the overarching goal of this piece seems to be to foster awareness and discomfort of slowly fading relevance simultaneously. Arsham has always been one to confuse and confound expectations of space and form in his architecture, and this work is certainly no different.

In another new territory for Arsham, “Amethyst Sports Ball Cavern” finishes its rounded pathway with a full-size mirror, a welcome change of space from the piece’s otherwise uniform composition. This feels also like a speculative shift from the rest of “Cavern;” it encourages a more personal look at the art and, cleverly, calls for patrons to see themselves within it. Rarely is an observer well-incorporated into the piece itself, but Arsham pulls this concept off with style and fluidity. There could be no better ending point for a work that challenges the human condition like “Cavern” does and asks so many questions of those who view it.

Daniel Arsham’s “Amethyst Sports Ball Cavern” is a refreshing and compelling display of art that is aimed to challenge and fully immerse its visitors. I cannot recommend it enough to both art fans and casual visitors alike! Go and check it out while it is still at the High Museum. You won’t regret it.

David Arsham’s “Hourglass” runs through May 21 at the High Museum of Art in Midtown Atlanta. For info: high.org.

Holyn, 16, is a junior at DeKalb School of the Arts. She took the photo and wrote this piece as a participant in VOX’s writing intensive with BURNAWAY, a five-session program offering teens the opportunity to write about and look at art in metro Atlanta.

About the VOX-Burnaway Writing Intensive:

Each session starts with a discussion led by a professional member of the art community, lunch at the VOX headquarters, and then a field trip to a MARTA-accessible art location. Teens travel to the High Museum, Mammal Gallery, Whitespace and the Beltline during the course of this program. Participants are encouraged to utilize the themes of diversity, accessibility and activism in their writing and during discussions. Email Sarah@voxatl.org if you’re an Atlanta-area teen interested in participating or learning more.

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