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For the past sixty years, Michael Fried’s eye for the most important new art of our age is unmatched by any other critic. From his groundbreaking essays on abstract painting and sculpture in the 1960s to his magisterial Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, his ability to show his readers the significance and meaning of such work has been a generous and invaluable gift to the intellectual world. This new book on Anri Sala is a paradigmatic example of his taste and discernment and the power of his elegant prose. Reading these essays is like re-experiencing Sala’s videos with one’s eyes opened to one of the most significant artists of our times. The brilliance, intelligence and imaginativeness of Sala’s work also characterise every page of the essays in this collection.
—Robert Pippin, University of Chicago

Anri Sala is widely recognised as one of the most significant artists of his generation. Michael Fried’s new book takes as its subject a selection of videos or films by Sala that constitutes a complex, ambitious and intriguing body of work with no equivalent in contemporary art. Being a renowned and distinguished art critic and art historian whose range of books covers Italian sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art, modern and modernist painting from the eighteenth through the twentieth century, as well as recent work in a variety of media, Michael Fried brings an unprecedented breadth and depth of knowledge to his analysis of Sala’s work. Even more unusual, this wealth of historical expertise is matched with an altogether unusual level of attention to how the videos/films work – how they are conceived by the artist and received in different ways by the viewer. In Fried’s criticism, description of a close and sustained kind is always an integral part of the interpretative project. Fried‘s commentaries on the videos fully grasp the workings of that artistic mind. “1395 Days without Red” and Other Videos will remain a landmark in the analysis of moving-image contemporary art.
— Jean-Pierre Criqui, Curator of Contemporary Collections, Editor of Les Cahiers du Mna, Musée national d’art moderne, Pompidou Centre, Paris

Anri Sala: “1395 Days without Red” and Other Videos

Michael Fried (J.R. Herbert Boone Emeritus Professor of Humanities and the History of Art, Johns Hopkins University)

Anri Sala, one of the most gifted and accomplished visual artists of his generation, was born in Albania and lives and works in Berlin. Michael Fried first encountered Anri Sala’s video, film and installation art in 2005, through his video Long Sorrow, and has been following his work since. This collection of essays focuses on what Fried identifies as a few major and recurring themes in Sala’s work, such as the independence of the image and sound tracks, the treatment of absorption, and the overarching issues of anti-theatricality and presentness. Throughout the book, which is illustrated with numerous colour stills from Anri Sala’s videos, Fried pursues a highly personal approach of combining extremely fine-grained structural and thematic readings of individual works with philosophical and theoretical reflections often drawing on the texts of major thinkers in the Western philosophical tradition. In an essay on Sala’s video Air Cushioned Ride, for example, Fried finds analogies between the latter and certain passages in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s early Notebooks, while in the essay on Sala’s Mixed Behaviour Fried turns to the eighteenth-century author and philosopher Friedrich Schiller to provide a framework for his observations.

In these brief essays packed with ideas, Fried also provides unique insight into his own renowned critical and theoretical work, which has exercised such great influence in art history and criticism over the past half-century. Employing in these moments a conversational tone, speaking directly to the reader in his own voice about his own work, he reviews the genesis and development of his theories and critical constructs in light of Anri Sala’s videos, creating a highly productive back and forth between Sala and the contemporary art world on the one hand and Fried’s often more historical studies and concepts on the other. For readers of Michael Fried, the result is not only a stimulating discussion of Sala and the artistic and theoretical tradition in whose light his work can be viewed, but also a vital reflection on Fried’s own foundational ideas, how they came to be and how they are relevant today.

Earlier I remarked that the counter-clockwise direction of the car’s circuits [in Air Cushioned Ride] turned out to have aesthetic consequences; what I meant was that by going against the analogical “flow” of time the circuits make time as such almost physically palpable for the duration of the video. That is to say that the “natural” linear directedness of ordinary time is largely negated, as if the repetition of the circuits conveys a sense of returning again and again (six times, anyway) to a point of origin; we might think of this as “art time,” not “nature time,” or say a suspended presentness, the eternal time of a genuine work of art – Wittgenstein’s sub specie aeternitatis. Plus the repetition and continuous cropping and reframing of the video image create an aesthetic perspective on space along with an evocation of the uncanniness of the resting truck-behemoths, not at all visible to the naked eye, in everyday circumstances – though perhaps Sala’s finding them beautiful and his initial impulse to pull off the highway and look more closely expressed an intuition of that. Or does this seem excessive? In the grip of my admiration for Air Cushioned Ride it is hard for me to be sure.
— Michael Fried

April 2023. Library PDF, illus., 225 pp. ISBN 978-1-927852-45-3. Kindle, $10.

Anri Sala, born in Tirana, Albania in 1974, studied art in Tirana and Paris, and has lived in Berlin since 2004. His exhibition history is extensive, with major shows in Paris, Munich, London, New York and Bregenz, among other venues, and he has been awarded various international prizes. In the opinion of many critics and peers, Sala stands among the leading visual artists of the present moment.

Michael Fried is the J.R. Herbert Boone Emeritus Professor of Humanities and the History of Art at Johns Hopkins University. Among his numerous books are Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, the Absorption and Theatricality trilogy, Menzel’s Realism, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, The Moment of Caravaggio, What Was Literary Impressionism?, Painting with Demons: The Art of Gerolamo Savoldo and French Suite: A Book of Essays. His most recent book of poems (with photographs by James Welling) is Promesse du Bonheur. Among his many honours is a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Mellon Foundation.