New York


Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery

If I hadn’t read the accompanying text, Anselmo’s exhibition would have simply looked like 14 pencil-on-paper drawings of a compass needle and its shadow. Loved the drawings, resisted the text. The drawings are smallish, installed at eye-level, on wood planes resembling basketball boards—mounted about four inches away from the wall. The planes can be slightly rotated and tilted so they don’t exactly rest parallel to the gallery walls. This gave the impression that, like some flora, they would turn their face to the best light in order to create the most advantageous shadow. The shadow of the compass needle is a holy cross of the navigator; the 14 drawings dispersed around the gallery begin to look like stations of the cross . . .

Wrong. As the gallery notes will be the first to disabuse you, “As in all of Anselmo’s oeuvre, the work can be described in deceptively simple terms until we realize the metaphysical implications of the subjects of the work.” Writing like this, no matter who the author, deserves teasing. But it’s hardly the most galling sentence in an information sheet which also advises us that Anselmo’s work “implies philosophical concerns and focuses attention on the most essential verbalizations drawn from our experience of attempting to define reality.” Since when are calibrations equivalent to reality? What verbalizations are forthcoming from a compass apart from “North/East/South/West?”

But there are elements of the installation I’m neglecting to mention. A carousel projector near the entrance to the exhibition, for one. A hunk of kryptonite with a compass embedded within, for another. We learn from the program notes that the kryptonite is actually diorite—a fancy word for feldspar—and the projector is there to project the word “particolare” (I couldn’t get it into focus)—meaning “detail”—so the viewer will correspondingly see him/herself as a detail in the piece.

Maybe something is being lost in the translation from the Italian. Anselmo’s installation is indeed fraught with intrigue, but this wacky commentary does the work disservice. It imbues the installation with a meaning about as deep as a science fair project. If the program notes are to be taken seriously, then the spectator is supposed to be grateful that Anselmo has made him/her part of this piece, part of an artwork whose only question seems to be, “Where am I?” The better questions to ask: “What is this?” and “Why the text?”

Carrie Rickey