The New Museum presents a major exhibition of the work of Anri Sala (b. 1974), one of the most acclaimed artists to emerge in recent decades. Though Sala has exhibited internationally since the late 1990s, “Anri Sala: Answer Me” marks the most comprehensive survey of his work in the United States to date. Highlighting Sal a’s continuing interest in how sound and music can engage architecture and history, the exhibition features extensive multichannel audio and video installations that unfold across the Second, Third, and Fourth Floor galleries, composing a symphonic experience specific to the New Museum.
In his early video works from the late 1990s, Sala used documentary strategies to examine life after communism in his native Albania, observing the role of language and memory in narrating social and political histories. Since the early 2000s, his video works have probed the psychological effects of acoustic experiences, embracing both music and sound as languages capable of conjuring up images, rousing nostalgia, and communicating emotions. In subtle visual narratives, Sala often depicts what appear to be fragments of everyday life, and his intimate observations experiment with fiction to double as enigmatic portraits of society.
Since the mid-2000s, Sala’s works have featured musicians in both films and live performances: In films such as Long Sorrow (2005) and Answer Me (2008), musicians intone requiems for the failed histories dormant in the architecture surrounding them. In Le Clash (2010) and Tlatelolco Clash (2011), organ-grinders stroll through deserted streets, amplifying a sense of alienation and uncertainty with their unexpected interpretations of a familiar song. The exhibition also includes a recurring live performance entitled 3-2-1 (2011/16), in which saxophonist André Vida improvises alongside musician Jemeel Moondoc’s recorded lamentation in Long Sorrow, expanding on the dynamics of free jazz in a duet that changes with each recital. Throughout these works, music resounds as both a cathartic release and an incantation that evokes historical chapters that are neither distant nor closed.
In recent works, Sala has interpreted musical compositions in multichannel video and sound installations that emphasize the perception of sound in relation to architectural spaces. This exhibition features a new spatialization of Sala’s The Present Moment (in B-flat) (2014) and The Present Moment (in D)(2014), in which the artist rearranges Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” [Transfigured Night] (1899) to create the sense that individual notes, abstracted from the composition, travel freely throughout the gallery before accumulating and playing in repetition as if trapped in a spatial impasse. The exhibition also includes the US premiere of Sala’s striking installation Ravel Ravel Unravel (2013), first exhibited at the 55th Venice Biennale, where Sala represented France. In Ravel Ravel (2013), two interpretations of Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D-major” (1929–30) are projected simultaneously in a semi-anechoic chamber, a space designed to absorb sound. Sala recomposed the tempo of the concerto for each pianist so that the two performances progress in and out of sync to produce the perception of musical echoes—a paradoxical experience in a space in which actual echoes are impossible. The dynamics of repetition and reverberation—rhetorical and compositional tropes in Sala’s works—underpin the ideas explored in the exhibition and enrich the historical dialogues embedded throughout the artist’s oeuvre.