Annette Messager

Annette Messager: Casino – image from Art Knowledge News

After our London Eye ride, we walked over to the nearby Southbank Centre and left the granddaughters to play with their Opa. Elisa and I went into the Hayward Gallery to see the Annette Messager: The Messengers exhibition.

Since this was a 40-year retrospective of the French artist’s work, we first met numerous tiny sketches, scribbles and cutouts covering walls and floors, and my thought was ‘gosh, if I’d kept every tiny scrap of everything I ever did in my life, I’d need a warehouse to store them.’ She obviously has one, for she’s amassed a huge body of work. It is fascinating to see the development of the artist’s work over the decades, from her interest in stuffed toys, animals, birds, children’s stories, photographs and drawings of children and women’s faces, human parts, and increasingly, broken parts, like the stuff of nightmares or physical abuse and violence. Good thing we did not take the children in for some of it would have been too disturbing for them.

Elisa, also an artist, commented that so many of Messager’s installations of hanging pieces reminded her of the work of one of her favourite artists, Christian Boltanski, who so happens to be Messager’s partner. For the both of us, the most moving installation had to be Messager’s Casino, first shown at the Venice Biennale in 2005. We sat there in front of it for long minutes, breathing in time with the seeming breathing action of the installation itself, almost like being inside a rich red living being, or something underwater slowly moving to the rhythm of ocean waves. It also made me think of a human embryo in the mother’s womb.

I generally like to view an exhibition without too much reading of print material until afterwards in order to respond with my own sensitivities and art experience. Sometimes Messager’s complex work is hard to understand but to me that’s the power and mystery of good art, the leaving of openings for the personal responses of the viewer. Reading about it later has enriched the experience for me.

I was excited at this opportunity to see this artist’s work as I’d first read about Annette Messager at Threading Thoughts about two years ago and found her work even then very exciting, disturbing and compelling. Olga is always a very articulate and understanding reviewer of the many exhibitions she visits. Unfortunately for us, she removes her older posts so we don’t have the link anymore, but I’m grateful to that introduction to a most powerful artist.

Here are some quotes by the artist, from the exhibition brochure in print and online:

For me, it’s a ‘natural’ gesture to rip bodies apart, cut them up… I always feel that my identity as a woman and as an artist is divided, disintegrated, fragmented, and never linear, always multifaceted…always pictures of parts of bodies, fragments and closeups… I always perceive the body in fragments.

I only wanted to use materials that you would be likely to find in a home, an attic: a ball of wool, coloured pencils, fabric, as if there were a kind of sequestration in the desire to be an artist.

I like to tell stories. I like clich├ęs. Children’s stories are monstrous. Psychoanalytically, our entire society is encapsulated in fairy tales. I’ve always been interested in them and they are often one of my points of departure.

It’s been three months since I saw this exhibition. I took no notes or photos so some of my memories are a bit blurry, so apologies for that. I’ve talked about some of my impressions and responses more than specific descriptions about the work. There is a wealth of information online about the artist and her work, far better than I can write. If it interests you to learn more please see some of the links provided at the bottom.

We were unable to get into the bookstore for just as we came out of the exhibition rooms there was an announcement that everyone was to exit the building. Fire? Terrorism? No explanation was given. Ah well, I was saved from the temptation of buying more catalogues or art books of which I have far far too many. I do have a small brochure but the illustrations are limited, hence I’ve had to go online to find a photo to post here, but the photos do not do justice to the experience, especially the Casino one shown above.

There have been been comments here of how many museums in London are free, but this one was not. Elisa’s Southbank membership did not allow guests free entry as she’d thought so I paid up, grateful for the seniors’ discount for 60 plus, something that seemed more common in the UK than in Canada where you usually have to be 65.

Annette Messager’s art of magic in The Guardian, includes reviews and a great slide show
about Annette Messager in Wikipedia
Google Images

August 13, 2009 in Art Exhibitions, Other artists, Travel by Marja-Leena