edited by: Anna Tomczak
graphic design: Tomasz Bierkowski
publisher: Zachęta - Narodowa Galeria Sztuki
The monographic Annette Messager exhibition in Zachęta is the first retrospective of the artist’s work in Poland. Selected works from over the course of the artist’s whole career will be presented in six of the gallery’s exhibition rooms and its entrance hall.
Annette Messager’s creative journey began at the end of the 60s, when the world of art was dominated by men and Messager was grappling with the ‘woman-artist’ label. Today, she is one of the most important French artists. In 2005, she was the first woman in the history of French art to present her installation in the French Pavillion at the 51st Art Biennale in Venice. The work, Casino, was awarded the Golden Lion.
At the exhibition in Zachęta the artist reveals a variety of faces, known from different stages of her career: Annette-the-practical-woman, Annette-the-swindler, Annette-the-colporteur, Annette-the-collector. The installations that emerged in the first half of the 70s are composed of everyday objects, press cuttings and photographs gathered by Messager in her small Parisian flat. They depict the world of a middle class woman who, under social pressure, lives up to the cultural roles thrust upon her: she is an exemplary mother, a somewhat hysterical companion for men, a house-keeper who fills her time with repetitive actions such as knitting or weaving. Annette unmasks the fictions of these stereotypes and of the beauty myth, demonstrating that a woman is denigrated by the cultural depiction of her.
In the works of later years, the artist dedicates a great deal of attention to corporality. She photographs the body, fragments it, and deprives it of its context and cultural significance. Making reference to the devotional tradition, she exhibits small photographs of the palms of hands, feet, eyes or breasts, creating from them hybrid creatures. Thus, the body becomes an especially significant element in Messager’s work. The artist explores physicality, exposing the symbolic significance of the body and the determining role that physicality plays in a person’s perception of the world. She treats the body as a kind of trophy, giving it new meanings, using its surface like a canvas, before in later installations going on to explore its interior.
Messager also plays with words. She makes use of their ambiguity, the sense that a word acquires when written in chalk on a wall or woven on a scrap of material, or also the magic power that a word acquires through obsessive repetition. Words in Messager’s hands are route markers, tropes towards the questions posed by the artist. There is a dualism constantly present in her works that unmasks cultural clichés and works above all on the visual level. Presenting objects and techniques associated with the world of childhood (chalk, inflatable toys in intense, bright colours), Messager at the same time raises serious questions related with death and eroticism. “A swindler? Yes, I think I like that”, says Messager. “All artists tell fairy-tales, make things more colourful, lie, play with reality, make it their own, just as children do with toys”.
Among the works presented in Poland are also to be found the famous installations made out of fabric and woven into fantastic shapes. The coherence and methodological nature of the development of Messager’s visual language is a characteristic feature of her work. She boldly interweaves photography, drawings, painting, weaving and cloth, despite the fact that she says these are impossible, problematic and “dirty” compositions. The exhibition closes with a work made especially for Zachęta – Breeze/Sous-vent − an installation-spectacle gathering different forms that have been close to the artist from the beginning of her career to today.