How to get a grip on Anri Sala
To mark the New Museum show here's some insight into the best ways to appreciate a cool and important artist
On 23 August 1914 the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, elder brother of the philosopher Ludwig, lost his right arm in World War I. Following the armistice, Wittgenstein approached a number of composers to write piano pieces for just the left hand. The most famous work came from Maurice Ravel whose Piano Concerto for the Left Hand remains a well-known piece to this day, thanks both to its beauty and its back story.
Anri Sala’s 2013 Venice Biennale show, Ravel Ravel Unravel, took the music as its starting point. Yet, rather than present the concerto as a kind of Modernist symbol of triumph of the human spirit over adversity, the artist offered visitors a somewhat more slippery proposition.
In one room two video recordings of pianists playing the piece were screened simultaneously; while in a second area, a French DJ attempted to sync two vinyl copies of the performances. In each case, the pieces fall out of time with each other, which, for Sala, was key. In fact, the discrepancies “paradoxically create an ‘other’ space” somewhere in between the two performances,” the artist explained.
All this was compounded by the fact that Ravel Ravel Unravel was the 2013 French national exhibition at the Beinnale, yet it was staged in the German pavilion, since the two had switched venues in 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty. Sala was born in Albania, studied in France and works in Berlin, and so was perfectly suited to the show, the pavilion and the occasion.
Indeed “Anri Sala has developed a widely acclaimed multimedia practice founded in the interplay of images, sound and architectural space,” write the New Museum’s Margot Norton and Massimiliano Gioni in our new Anri Sala monograph, published to coincide with the Museum’s retrospective. “Probing notions of memory and time - both personal and historical - Sala’s works engage the viewer’s awareness of being present while calling attention to the political dynamics of space.”
The accompanying show Anri Sala: Answer Me, which has just opened at the New Museum and runs until 10 April 2016, is the most comprehensive survey of his work in the United States to date.
It includes Ravel Ravel Unravel, as well as other well-known works by the artist, such as Answer Me (2008), video wherein a couple argue inside one of Berlin’s Cold-War era Teufelsberg listening stations, the man only answering the woman by playing the drums; No Barragán No Cry (2002), a photograph of a horse plonked onto a plinth on a Mexican skyscraper, mimicking a missing statue from modernist architect Luis Barragán's far lovelier roof terrace in Mexico City; and Long Sorrow (2005) which features the free-jazz saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc playing just outside the window of the uppermost apartment in a bleak modernist Berlin tower block.
Every piece is filled with unseen details. It helps, for example, to know that the Berlin estate where Sala filmed Moondoc is known locally as the Long Sorrow; or that No Barragán No Cry sounds a bit like the title of a Bob Marley song. It is worth bearing in mind that Sala was born in the Eastern Bloc, and experienced the rough end of socialist, pseudo-scientific social planning up close. A lot of his work deals with the kind of world that the Modernists bequeathed to us. Yet you can just enjoy the beauty of the sounds and the images.
For more on the New Museum show go here and for further detail and insight into this important artist buy a copy of our new book, which is written by the show’s curators. Finally, if you want to get a great Anri Sala print at a very attractive price take a look at this work available right now over at Artspace.
Sala created this limited edition print on the occasion of his exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, Anri. Untitled (Cactus 2), 2011, shows the Blue Agave, the plant from which the spirit tequila is made, shimmering as if photographed under conditions of extreme heat. The distortions visible in the image are the result of a sheet of antique glass the artist placed inbetween his camera and the native Mexican plant. Made using pre-modern techniques, the glass bears the hallmarks of handcraftsmanship; the ripples and imperfections on its surface standing in contrast to the uniformity of standard, industrially produced glass. It's available right now over at Artspace.