Artist Daniel Arsham’s Hourglass exhibit challenges our understanding of, and relationship with, history through a synthesis of audio, sculpture, architecture, and performance art. The ambitious work is currently on display at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and it immerses us in spaces that simultaneously reflect the past and present. The thought-provoking endeavor includes three disparate installations that are linked through mythology and bright colors. The latter is a first for Arsham.
Throughout the museum, one site displays a Japanese zen garden with a traditional pagoda and raked sand that’s clad in a bright blue hue. The garden is routinely raked every Sunday by a performer, while the illuminated tea house is occupied by the statue of a woman sitting on tatami mats with a selection of everyday items. “The cast figure of a woman in the sand is reminiscent of Pompeii,” the museum explains, “while a Japanese lantern and scattered objects give the environment a palpable sense of dwelling—as if occupied by a caretaker-hermit.”
Although the zen garden has vibrant blue on display, other installations include different colors. Another site called Amethyst Sports Ball Cavern features just that—a purple cave composed entirely of volleyballs, soccer balls, and more. They’re all painted the same color, which gives them a uniform appearance. It’s only after studying the geode-like space that you notice the characteristics of the various equipment.
The third installation is perhaps the most striking. It consists of large hourglasses filled with crushed crystals and sculptural casts. The sands of time bury portions of the objects within and obscure their forms in black and blue grains. A child’s voice is projected throughout the piece describing each of them, as if cataloging the items.
The stunning colors of the exhibits are made all the more compelling due to the fact that Arsham is colorblind. He has recently been able to see a more vibrant spectrum of hues using special glasses that refract light, and Hourglass is Arsham’s first work in color. “Life is definitely more nuanced, but I’m not sure it’s more interesting,” he admits. “I feel like I’m inside a game—an overly saturated world.”
Eventually, the artist adjusted to this new world of color. “But now I’ve arrived at a point where I’m using color as another tool in my work,” he says. “This is a unique project for me in that there is a ton of color, so I think it’s going to be really interesting to see audiences react.”
Jonathan Odden, the High’s curatorial assistant of modern and contemporary art, says of the exhibit, “History is profoundly human, created from the objects and events each of us encounters, and Arsham’s work reminds us of these important connections. We are eager for our audiences to experience these spaces.”