Daniel Arsham’s Latest Show Is Hidden in a Remote Tropical Paradise

Pin It
Study for Eroded Bust of Dyonisis (2022)
Study for Eroded Bust of Dyonisis (2022)Courtesy Patina Maldives and Daniel Arsham

The New York artist discusses his minimalist new exhibition of “eroded” drawings, which are currently on show at the Patina Maldives

On a sliver of white sand in the Indian Ocean, palm trees are swaying softly in the breeze. The sun is blazing, fruitbats are shuffling through the leaves, and crystalline waves are rolling lazily onto the shore. Tucked amongst this land’s lush tropical overgrowth, barely visible, is a series of flat, clean, modernist constructions. These modest buildings, created by Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan, serve as the home of Patina Maldives – a new luxury resort on the North Male Atoll – and its accompanying gallery, the Fari Art Atelier. 

Inside the atelier – which you can enter only by appointment – is Daniel Arsham’s latest show. In keeping with the resort’s minimalist aesthetic, the room is sparse, with only a handful of large pencil-drawn sketches on the walls. All of them were created by the Miami-born artist during a residency earlier this year, which saw him stay on the island and create work for three weeks.  “I had never been to the Maldives [and] I’m very inspired by travel,” Arsham tells AnOther. “This show seemed like a great opportunity to work in a secluded environment.”

It’s an idyllic, if strange, location for an art exhibit. The Maldives is known for being home to some of the world’s most lavish hotels, and Patina – which has only been open for one year – meets that qualification easily. But the resort has loftier goals than luxury: as well as the Michelin Star-worthy restaurants, Haeckels-equipped spa, and the showstopping on-sea villas, Patina hopes to become a world-class art destination. A stroll around the island will have you stumbling into works from acclaimed international names like Hiroko Takeda, Cassio Vasconcellos, Hongjie Yang and Jose Davila. Its Art Residency programme is already building an impressive reputation, too: the first guest (before Arsham) was James Turrell, who ended up constructing an immersive, site-specific light installation, Skyspace Amarta, on the island last year.

For Arsham, the Patina residency was an obvious yes – and a welcome break. The artist has been notoriously busy over the last few years, collaborating with creatives and brands like Dior, Tiffany & Co, Pharrell Williams, Paris’s Grand Palais, and even Pokemon. “The nice thing about this residency is how remote it is: the quietness compared to New York, where my studio is located,” he says. “Patina gave me a chance to work without that aspect of noise and hustle. Although it’s familiar in the sense that I’m used to tropical climates having grown up in Miami, there’s a sense of escape from the day-to-day studio life.” 

The theme of all the resort’s residencies so far has been “Perpetuality”, with Patina encouraging artists to explore “humanity’s impact on nature and civilisation”. Arsham’s work is known for speaking to this idea, and the work he made during his stay ended up being linked to his longer-term sculptural projects. In these early sketches, the artist circles around the notion of erosion: we see crumbling classical statues and decaying Pokemon characters, all embedded with mysterious gemstones. “The concept of Perpetuality ties in nicely with my work – humanity’s impact on nature,” Arsham explains. “Much of my work showcases the effect of our footprints, [so this project] kind of unveils aspects of this.” As well as sharing the work he created on-site, Arsham also allowed other guests to observe his creative process during his three-week stay – with open studio sessions, talks, and a private group dinner.

Humanity‘s impact on nature is also a wider theme at the hotel. As well as focusing on art and luxury, Patina aims to be a leader in sustainability and climate awareness. Much of the food, for example, comes from the resort’s own on-site organic, permaculture gardens; the fish are caught only through pole and line methods (fishing nets are banned in the Maldives), and 15 per cent of energy on the island is solar-powered (the goal is to reach 50 per cent by 2030). Because, despite the ethereal beauty of the island, humanity’s impact on nature is felt here more than anywhere else: much of the world’s plastic ends up flowing into the sea nearby, with the country banning the material entirely to avoid adding to the problem. Patina has also partnered with Parley For The Oceans, a plastic pollution non-profit, and will be working with the Olive Ridley Project, which aims to protect the area’s turtles. For Arsham, Patina’s dedication to change – to charting the negative effects of the climate crisis and trying to reverse them – was another reason to be involved in the project. “This process happens before our eyes, quickly or not-so-quickly,” he says finally, “which is why, for me, the visual components of the future and present are so intertwined.”

The completed artworks will remain at Patina Maldives for public exhibition and purchase until 8 June 2022 at the Fari Art Atelier

Red Savannah offers seven nights at Patina Maldives from £8,871 per person, based on two sharing a One Bedroom Beach Pool Villa, return speedboat transfers, daily breakfast, and flights in Economy Class.