Annette Messager lives to create... and/or creates to live
About the monographic exhibition devoted to Annette Messager at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art until 3 September.
From her first works in the early 1970s to those she creates today, in an increasingly unbridled way, Annette Messager stimulates a dialogue. With the body, with the intimate, with the feminine. With the taboo. The artist, born in 1943 in Berck-sur-Mer, in the Pas-de-Calais, is completely at home in her extraordinarily personal work.
At the same time as this figure, who is now a key figure on the international art scene, has been exhibiting at the LaM in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, Lille Métropole Musée d'art moderne, d'art contemporain et d'art brut, since 11 May and until 21 August, she is the subject of a magnificent presentation in Israel. And it is a first.
Winner of a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2005, known throughout the world, Annette Messager has never before had a monographic exhibition in Israel. It is the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, on the initiative of Marie Shek and after several years of research and postponements forced by the pandemic, that is finally devoting a retrospective to her, in the form of a chronological tour offering a glimpse of the diversity, inventiveness and freedom of her practice.
From her first intimist works of art to her recent macabre drawings, via her fascinating installations, the exhibition entitled "Désirs-Désordres", in reference to Annette Messager's taste for word games, brings together pieces that have marked out her work over the past fifty years. It plunges the visitor into a playful and gritty universe, deconstructing feminine stereotypes in particular.
If Annette Messager's assemblages, made of objects found in the street or at home, teddy bears, dolls or old clothes, always dare to be contradictory, it is quite simply because no one is made of a single piece. The artist herself, in the catalogue of the Grenoble Museum exhibition of 1989, already stated that she "founded her own identity on the multiplicity of characters she portrayed". Thus, she never ceased to construct figures of infinite richness, which she then put into space as "the conductor of a formidable carnival fed by a profoundly original culture, ranging from Virginia Woolf to Simone de Beauvoir, from Alfred Kubin to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo (1905), individual mythologies and constantly renewed obsessions", writes Bernard Blistène, for the June issue of the contemporary art magazine Art Press.
For this ambitious exhibition, revealing an artist who is more virtuoso and inventive than ever, as much a collector as a trickster or a practical woman, tirelessly and humorously unraveling the clichés traditionally associated with her dual status as a woman and an artist, Marie Shek and Annette Messagier have endeavored to emphasize the diversity of her proposals. However, the star of contemporary art told AFP, just before the opening of her retrospective in Tel Aviv, that her work had been largely modified by the coronavirus pandemic. "The world has changed (...) and surely so has my work (...) We are all obsessed by what has happened, by what we are experiencing now, the masks we wear, all the deaths that have occurred and are still occurring.
The change mentioned was certainly in the content, but also in the form. While she usually works with numerous assistants, the obligation to work alone has led Annette Messager, so well known for her fantastic bestiary mixing stuffed animals and tinkered and masked stuffed animals, to drawings that are striking in their simplicity. YouMe", an acrylic on paper with a trembling line, which represents a pink heart and resembles a face surmounted by two skulls looking at each other, orbit to orbit, offers a striking contrast with "Casino", a spectacular device dating from 2004/2005 which rightly won her the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. A theatrical device inspired by Pinocchio, animated in a movement of red waves that spectators were also able to discover in 2007 at the Musée national d'art moderne at the Centre Pompidou, and around which the Tel Aviv exhibition is very intelligently organised, leading from intimate rooms to vast assemblages punctuated by fans or machines that are sometimes hidden, ranging from constructions that look like bricolage to a series of drawings that are for the most part unpublished.
« YouMe »
« Casino »
"Under the guise of tightrope walking and latent humour, Messagier's Comédie humaine often tragically stages the disarray of our society, the issues that beset it and the anxieties that embrace it," writes Bernard Blistène, who sees the allure of a ghost train in this succession of chronologically orchestrated rooms. One of the most influential artists of her generation, having very early on consolidated her social-feminist vision of the world, which overturns conventions, Annette Messager, 78, never ceases to bear ardent witness to "the misfortunes of the world and the tragedy of the times". The power of her work is rooted in the excess, repetition and audacity that characterise her images.
Drawing on an impressive variety of media and different scales of measurement, his vast and extraordinary work, inspired by his childhood and personal experience among other things, is thus articulated in this exhibition around two main axes: desire(s) and disorder(s).
"My art is my religion", says Annette Messager, true to the French meaning of her name, messenger of a fantastic world, as much enjoyable as disturbing, whose exclusive and uncompromising language represents five decades of artistic creation. "Good art must be deeply moving. Without emotion and desire, there is no meaning to life.
And she feels that life is particularly vibrant in Israel. "It is a country at war, but I have never seen so much life and enthusiasm in a city as here in Tel Aviv," the artist emphasised, observing the crowds at the Museum of Modern Art and on the café terraces. She suggested that perhaps it was precisely because here "we live in the moment". The artist who had as a companion another renowned French artist, Christian Boltanski, who died last July, and with whom she had notably signed "Le Voyage de Noces" in 1975, a work of art in the form of a mural installation summoning up an intimate and commonly shared memory, bringing together 21 drawings and 86 colour photographs, had once stayed in a kibbutz, an Israeli collectivist village.
What has never changed in Annette Messager is her "obsession", as she herself puts it, with creation. "It's the only thing I'm interested in, to tell you the truth.