Review of the exhibition Anri Sala: Answer Me at the New Museum, CAA.Reviews (forthcoming in 2017).
Anri Sala: Answer Me, organized by the New Museum’s artistic director Massimiliano Gioni and associate curators Margot Norton and Natalie Bell, is the artist’s first comprehensive survey exhibition in the United States. Anri Sala (b. 1974) is an Albanian artist who lives and works in Berlin and uses primarily video to investigate the underlying structure of music and sound. Many of his works deal with emotional histories of architectural spaces as told by live and recorded musical performances.
Answer Me fills three floors of the museum and is organized thematically—a minimalistic and technologically sophisticated presentation on the fourth floor; comprehensive overview of the artist’s major video works on the third; and a selection of small-scale installations, works on paper, and recent sound and video works on the second. The centerpiece of the exhibition—two interrelated sound and video installations, Ravel Ravel (2013) and Unravel (2013)—takes up the entire fourth floor. These works introduce Sala’s artistic strategies that often are aimed at multisensory confusion and a questioning of temporal and spatial coherence. In Ravel Ravel, for example, two large video projections each show a male pianist’s left hand playing Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D-major (1929–30) simultaneously. The detailed attention on the pianist’s hand isolates and decontextualizes it as an object, making it unfamiliar and thus contributing to the overall effect of disorientation. By focusing solely on a hand playing a piano, Sala highlights the moment when sound/music is made and asks one to wonder whether understanding the mechanism of making sound helps one understand music.
Sala’s sound-based, non-narrative work challenges the existing methods of displaying and theorizing art and in doing so reveals their limitations. The layout of the exhibition occasionally struggles to establish a coherent relationship between works in different media, and the catalogue essays hesitate at times to look beyond the technical procedures and historical facts. Nevertheless, New Museum succeeds in presenting some of Sala’s most complex works in captivating and engaging setting.