Forget Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst or Ai Weiwei, no contemporary artist resonates more with pop culture than Daniel Arsham right now.
The multi-hyphenated artist has been a star on the rise for years, exhibiting his sculptural and architectural work in destinations such as MOMA PS1 and the New Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, the Athens Biennale and Paris’ Galerie Perrotin, as well as collaborating with global brands like Porsche, Dior, Adidas, Uniqlo and KITH.
And now the American is about to embark on a new chapter after the Cleveland Cavaliers unveiled him as the NBA franchise’s first-ever creative director.
The 40-year-old’s mandate will encompass everything from branding and imagery on the Cavs’ jerseys and home court at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to social media and marketing to collaborating with Cleveland artists and brands.
In an unprecedented year, the unprecedented strategic move by Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert bridges the world between contemporary art and professional sport.
Arsham will also become a minority owner in the Cavaliers and will handle the visual designs for the other teams owned by Gilbert – G-League outfit Canton Charge, the Cavs Legion e-sports team and the Cleveland Monsters in the American Hockey League.
While this isn’t quite a homecoming on the same level as when LeBron James returned to Cleveland from the Miami Heat in 2014, Arsham is a lifelong Cavs supporter who has featured the sport in some of his best-known works, including the site-specific installation Moving Basketball (2019) which is housed inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse’s public art collection.
It was that installation that ultimately led to this opportunity. Dan and Jennifer Gilbert have been building their personal art collection in recent years and have acquired a handful of Arsham’s works. Grant Gilbert, who is the Cavs director of brand strategy, drove the decision and now the NBA has one of the most versatile artists on the planet inside the head office.
“I am honoured and thrilled to be joining the Cleveland Cavaliers as creative director,” Arsham said.
“I am a third-generation Clevelander. My family can trace its roots back to 1908 when my great grandfather first arrived as an immigrant to build his life here. He came to this country with nothing, and like many hard-working Clevelanders, he built his business from the ground up.
“From the rushing waters of Chagrin Falls, to the pizza at Geraci’s and autumn in the Metroparks – Cleveland is a place that has heavily influenced me throughout my life, no matter where my life has led me. The Land is a part of me.
“As a visual artist and long-time Cavs fan, I have constantly used basketball as a recurring theme in my work. I’ve shown my work from Paris to Tokyo, Rio to Shanghai – and now, I’m proud to bring it home.”
And while we haven’t seen a move like this before, it could be the start of a new wave in the copycat world of professional sports.
“If Andy Warhol was around today he would be the creative director of the Knicks,” Arsham said. “He would have known what to do there.”
You get the feeling Arsham knows what he is doing in Cleveland.
We can’t wait to see what he does.