Streetwear Impact Report - DA
Daniel Arsham on Popular Culture Influence
This interview is part of the Streetwear Impact Report. The report includes data analyzed through two key research methods: a consumer-facing survey and an industry-facing survey. Full description of the methodology behind the report can be found in the Introduction.
Daniel Arsham is a contemporary American visual artist whose work exists in between art, architecture and performance. Read our other Streetwear Impact Report lead interviews with Hiroshi Fujiwara , Alexandre Arnault and Josh Luber .
What is streetwear for you and how would you define the term?
Daniel Arsham: For people of my generation, and friends of mine, streetwear is just the stuff that we grew up with. The brands that we grew up with, the things that we wore in high school, basically, would be the easiest way to define it. Those are the moments in your life that you find yourself, and find ways of expression through the things that you associate yourself with. And obviously, clothing and sneakers, that was a big part of our youth.
How do you see streetwear now in relation to the fashion and art industries?
I think what we would have called streetwear back in '96, there are still brands that do that, but there's also much more high-end brand that call what they do streetwear, even though it's not really what they're doing.
I think the largest thing that I always thought about was, streetwear was a brand that had an ethos and really a person behind it, who was driving the scene around it. And it was a collection of people with like-minded ideas, whether they shared music interests, or whatever it was. Maybe not so much now, but before, when you talked about streetwear in contrast to high-end fashion, there was a level of authenticity that was prevalent within it.
So what does that mean for what's happening now? Can a luxury brand who is, for example, selling a hoodie authentically be part of streetwear?
Well, those brands have also evolved in terms of their creators. I mean, Kim Jones from Dior has a background in fashion, but he also he came out of a scene in London that was doing, in the ‘90s, what we call streetwear today. Streetwear is just happening on a wider scale now, and it's much more easily shareable, so we feel like it's amplified.
I think, at least friends of mine, people that follow what I do, they know what's what. And even if they can look at a luxury brand that's doing it, they know that it's streetwear, in quotes. It's not exactly the same.
Do you feel you’ve influenced the streetwear movement?
I think certainly Snarkitecture's partnership with KITH has had a wide influence on the way that people think about what the retail experience should be, and we certainly see that going all the way up to the top.
That experience is important, that even though you're not necessarily a luxury brand, KITH will put the resources toward making a space that competes physically on that level. It's like again, this idea about creating something that's for us.
Your collaboration with adidas was a pivotal moment in terms of an artist collaborating with an athletic brand. How did you approach the collaboration at the time?
One thing that I liked about it, was the ability to reach a wider audience and an audience that doesn't necessarily go to museums or galleries. And doesn't have access in that way. And it's one of the reasons why we put the mini gallery inside Kith as well.
The art world has a tendency to feel a little bit hard to enter from the outside if you’ve never been or you just didn’t grow up in that kind of culture. And part of it is because artwork takes a lot of effort and a lot of time to create and there's a respect that needs to be given to that. My involvement with the projects that I’ve done with adidas and the sneakers I have created, allowed me to bridge those audiences.
Who is your art for? You have a large following on Instagram and a large part of them can’t afford to buy the art you’re creating. So how do you see your relationship with people who follow your work?
That's the thing about artwork, is that you don't have to own the thing to be part of it. There's a lot of exhibitions that are free. The last show that I had at Perrotin was the most-attended exhibition that they've ever had. And it was a lot of people that probably never went to a gallery before. So there's a level of access that's more egalitarian, by being more inclusive of these larger audiences
When I first was talking to my people in the art world about the collaborations that I was doing with adidas, there was heavy skepticism around it: “You're integrating a brand, and a brand is not about creativity, it's about generating money,” and all of that. And my position was like, “No, this is the same as what I'm doing.” Ronnie can kind of create a universe around an ethos, an artist does the same thing, and I don't think there's any difference. I mean, this is something that Warhol was talking about in the '60s. And it only took another 50 years before, in the wider consciousness, it's accepted.
In terms of this egalitarian aspect, what do you think that means for luxury brands? Is it sustainable for them to tap into streetwear?
I honestly think it's about authenticity, and you can look at what Demna [Gvasalia] is doing at Balenciaga, whether you like it or not, that's his world, and he knows it really well. And there's not only a style there, but an integration of ideas that he has brought with him from his experience in the past. And I think all of these different entities have brought in pretty top level people. Virgil, and even looking at Kim's last show at Dior, there was this collaboration with Raymond Pettibon, but the whole show was highly tailored and a mixture of things, and I think that's what he does, is he pulls influences from his own experience, his travels, people that he's met, and he looks at it through a certain lens, and it's his vision of that.
When thinking about your audience, or the streetwear audience, who do you see them as?
It's a pretty broad range and it's also pretty global. If I go to Tokyo, there's going to be the same audience as a show here in New York City. I think it's generally people that are interested in thinking about their everyday and going back to integrate some of these ideas into the work. A lot of the Future Relics and the objects that I've been working through are also kind of bringing in these cultural touchpoints that were relevant to me.
There's again this hesitation within a lot of the art world community about accepting, more like this branding idea, that those things can be relevant. The way that I've looked at it is, if I went 100 years in the future, and I looked back at these things, you wouldn't separate these two entities, right? You could look at what I'm doing — Tom Sachs is somebody certainly who's also in this or Takashi Murakami — and maybe you might think of them the same way that you think of a Nike or a Dior. They're cultural producers of objects and things that engage people in their everyday lives.
Thinking about this idea of a sneaker as a bridge between your work, or museums and an audience. How do you see that applying to fashion? Do you think streetwear is that answer to luxury fashion?
I think that there are a lot of people who go see art. And that's part of their identity. They associate with themselves, the same way that what you wear changes the way you feel and how you present yourself. Being a person who is engaged with culture in that way can be part of your identity.
And certainly the same way that people might want to share an experience or type of clothing that they have, or being inclusive, almost like tribal in a way, they would also share an experience that they've gone and seen in the exhibition.
How important are collaborations to you and your work?
This is not often brought up in relation to my work, but the beginning of my career I worked as a stage designer for Merce Cunningham, who, starting in the 1950s, based his entire practice out of the idea of collaboration with musicians and artists. And he worked with Warhol and Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns and Duchamp, basically the most important artists of the 20th century.
His idea about collaboration was finding things, and taking risks that artists might not otherwise, if they were left to their own choices. He took it even a step further by saying: “Not only am I going to make this collaboration, but I'm not gonna know what you're doing until the premiere.”
So he would make his choreography, an artist would make the set, a musician would make the score, but none of them knew what the other one was doing, and it was the idea about removing his own taste, the things that he gravitated towards. He allowed them to be much more chance-based. And certainly, this idea of collaboration has become a little bit of a buzzword, but that's just what I started in, and it's been part of the ethos of my practice from the beginning.
In terms of sharing your work, what platform or channels do you feel are most important, whether it's digital or physical?
Nothing beats seeing the work in real life. People are often surprised when they may finally see a work. In person, there's just a different level of craft to it and these things are considered on a three-dimensional basis. When you're looking at a screen, obviously you can tell if something's physical, but how the light carries, and what the sound of the space is, and what it smells like in the room, and all of these other aspects that are pretty tightly controlled.
How do you see this streetwear trend evolving in the next five, 10 years and specifically in relation to contemporary art?
Streetwear is carving out these smaller and more limited capsules that are probably harder to get, and that level of exclusivity is something that works well in that universe. Streetwear is popular culture and it’s not going to go anywhere. It may go through different creatives who have their own spin on it. But, some of them are maybe more minimal and some are more maximalist.
In our survey, North American and European respondents indicated they think contemporary artists are more credible than industry figures? Why do you think that is?
It goes back to this idea of authenticity. I have nothing to gain in this streetwear industry. I mean, my adidas collaboration was a drop in the bucket of everything. I'm engaged with it as a viewer, and as a participant in that way, that I'm part of the universe of it, but that sentiment may be because those people have something to gain by it. And this kind of idea around authenticity. I don't know.
When you think something becomes not authentic? When people are just doing it for the hype?
For the money.
Where do you cross that line?
I think there can certainly be too much of something when you're overdoing it. I think part of the thing, and this is something that I remember, even talking to professors at school when I studied at Cooper, about executing an idea and forming a body of work, and all that.
And one of the things that you have to remember is, the world is a big place, there's a lot of people, there's a lot of locations on the planet that, their interest in culture and their access to culture has not always been what it is today. And sometimes you do have to repeat yourself many times to get an idea across. So it's kind of like, how many times can you do something, versus have you actually told that story to everyone yet? I don't know where the line is in that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.