Daniel Arsham on Making NFT Artwork That is ‘Not Possible’ in the Real World – Decrypt
Daniel Arsham has exhibited his sculptures, paintings, and experiential installations in galleries and museums around the globe. He’s designed architecture and fashion, directed films, and collaborated with artists and brands such as Pharrell Williams, Dior, Pokémon, and Porsche. Also, he’s the creative director for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
Given that wide berth of prominent work, the multi-disciplinary artist only embraced the concept of releasing artwork via NFTs once he realized that he could do something entirely new with the format—something that he couldn’t accomplish with his physical work.
“Just the idea that you could own something digitally—it wasn’t interesting enough for me to say, ‘Oh, I want to get into this,’” Arsham told Decrypt. “Anytime I enter a new space, I want to make sure that it’s giving me and my audience something that is not possible in another medium.”
He was first pitched on NFTs in 2019 by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, co-founders of crypto exchange Gemini, when they visited his New York studio. The twins had acquired Nifty Gateway, an early NFT marketplace, and were trying to convince traditional artists to embrace the new medium—a process they’d later describe as an uphill battle.
Arsham knew about CryptoPunks, the seminal Ethereum profile pictures, and considered the possibility of connecting NFTs to physical artwork—but nothing clicked right away.
However, one of the twins said something to Arsham that stuck in his mind: He could potentially create digital artwork that gradually changed over time.
“For the next couple of months, I was just thinking about this idea,” Arsham said, “like, what could I actually do with it?”
Erode. Reform. Change. @DanielArsham drops tomorrow on #NiftyGateway! pic.twitter.com/ilp82q6YWI
— Nifty Gateway (@niftygateway) May 22, 2021
Eventually, that inspiration led to “Eroding and Reforming,” a series of digital sculpture drops that Arsham held on Nifty Gateway in 2021.
Each 3D animation shows a sculpture—a bust, body, or car—that gradually wears and crumbles over time before building back into its original form. Some pieces also change with the real-world seasons.
Now he’s bringing elements of the previous Ethereum NFT pieces together for the final drop in the “Eroding and Reforming” series on Nifty Gateway, which launches on April 30 with fresh compositions inspired by famed Hollywood films. And there’s a special perk for collectors who complete the entire set.
Arsham’s driving ambition
As with some of his real-world art exhibitions, Arsham’s NFT work thus far juxtaposes classical themes with elements of entertainment and pop culture. It also plays with the concept of time in a way that his physical pieces cannot, with works that shift or evolve over a fixed period—the span of a single day, for example, or the length of a feature film.
The latter is the case with the four pieces that make up Arsham’s final drop in the series.
Each depicts a notable car from a popular movie rendered in various digital materials cruising through different terrain. Each NFT has a decay cycle that lasts the length of the respective film inspiration for both the car and background details (like statues) before starting to reform.
In one NFT composition, the DMC DeLorean from the “Back to the Future” films—which he has reimagined physically in an eroding form—is cast in digital stone and shown cruising around the dusty red surface of Mars.
Another NFT work, as seen in the still images here, has the BMW E30 from “Wall Street” kicking up dust around the Moon.
The other works cast the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in a jungle setting and a 1968 Ford Mustang GT from “Bullitt” around a tight cityscape in the rain.
Arsham said that it was a “big challenge” to capture how these cars should look and move when built with unfamiliar textures and shifting through sometimes unexpected locales.
“When you look at a car cinematically moving through a space, a lot of your interpretation of how it feels correct is based on reflections and things like that,” he said. “But these cars look like sculptures. They look like they’re made of stone. […] It’s a really fun process.”
Arsham said that while some people may think of NFTs as simplistic, generative artwork—like many formulaic profile picture projects on the market—these animated compositions ultimately proved to be incredibly time-intensive to nail all of the little details he had in mind.
“Building these works is as complex for me as making an entire exhibition, like the amount of rounds that I’ve been going through to perfect things,” he told Decrypt. “The way the light hits off this thing, the pacing of it, literally the way that dust falls on the Moon surface—those are all things that are critical to your feeling of it.”
Architecting the metaverse
The final drop will complete the set of 10 “Eroding and Reforming” NFTs on Nifty Gateway. There’s also a benefit for devoted collectors: a bonus 11th piece that will only be airdropped free to those owners who hold the entire set.
Arsham said that the bonus piece isn’t completed yet, but that it will be “a pretty special thing” and that it “combines all of them in a way that I don’t think people will expect.” He will take a snapshot of holders’ wallets in the near future to determine who receives the extra piece, but with sufficient notice so fans can try to fill gaps on the secondary market.
Beyond this initial NFT project, Arsham will continue playing in the NFT and wider Web3 space. He envisions potentially launching his own private server (like Discord) to leverage his community of digital collectors, but he’s also excited about the possibilities of building for the coming metaverse—particularly given his background in architecture.
“I’m starting to see these things that don’t obey gravity, the scale is different, and nature can operate in ways that don’t follow the laws of Earth,” he said of immersive metaverse creations. “I think a lot of that is pretty magical.”
And in the real world, Arsham is looking for ways to bring a digital touch to his physical work. He has a major museum exhibition planned for 2023 in which he intends to show the complete set of “Eroding and Reforming” digital sculptures, and he’s also considering how to make his next NFT artwork interactive, potentially across both realms.
“I think the next ones might be more about the way that we can interact with them,” he said, “in metaverse space or maybe in physical space—how they reenter the physical world.”
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