Marian Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Annette Messager’s first solo exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery in London. This is Messager’s first exhibition in London since her 2009 Hayward Gallery exhibition, The Messengers.
Avec et sans raisons, brings together works that display a diversity of forms: small assemblages of objects, acrylic washes, textile works in the form of installations, and wallpaper. As is common in Messager’s practice, she cultivates an environment of lexical literalness, reversal and ambiguity.
Messager’s chosen title for this exhibition encapsulates her fondness for word-play and double entendre. On one level, Avec et sans raisons may be understood as “having reason, or cause, for doing something, or not”; but one could go further and take it to mean “being deprived, or in possession of, the faculty of reason.” Messager offers an experience full of contrasts. While some works have a clear underlying rationality, the absurd character of others soon comes to undermine this rationality. The collection as a whole reveals an indomitable freedom of spirit.
Alluding to Pascal who, in Les Pensées from 1670, drew a distinction between the “geometric mind” which analyzes reality through the lens of reason, and the “intuitive mind,” which, above all, “sees the matter at once, at a glance, and not by a process of reasoning,” Messager invites viewers to put their “geometric mind” to the test and make use of their “intuitive mind” in order to better succumb to the lightness of what seems to have no raison d’être. There thus are three works that
will take the viewer by surprise: Gants croix, Gants triangle, and Gants croix oblique, 2017. The minimalism of these three pieces, made of simple lengths of taut string with end-points in the form of gloves studded with colored pencils, stands out. Their mathematical rectitude, however, gives way to an unruly tangle of references, presenting us with utmost whimsy—as in En trottinette (On my Scooter), 2017, 3 Escargots-seins (3 Snails-breast), 2017, Le Bras chaussure (The Arm Shoe), 2015, or En équilibre (In Balance), 2015. These sculptures intensify unusual associations between objects, including breasts shaped like snail shells, an infant’s arm emerging from a child’s shoe, a carbonized Barbie doll precariously balanced with both legs in the air. The resulting bizarre forms, as much uncanny
as burlesque, defy any rational reading.
In the work Mémoire Robots, 2015, where the words “memory” written with metal wire covered with a thick black net and “robots” written with soft coloured letters, Messager asks another metaphysical question that already preoccupied 17th and 18th century philosophers: does human nature contain a machine component? This question holds even greater relevance today, since one can now identify man in machines due to the development of artificial intelligence. Indeed, robots have come to replace man in a number of professional fields, they are a part of our daily lives and have in some ways become extensions of ourselves, safeguarding our memories and managing our social lives.
It is said that reason gives humans the faculty of judgment, the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. Yet Annette Messager, also known for adopting multiple identities, continuously blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality. By disseminating the motif of the mask, namely in the installation Les 7 balais (The 7 Brooms), 2011, and the assemblages La Chaussure à double visage (The Two-faced Shoe), 2016, the artist cultivates subterfuge.
Some works, in turn, alter our perception of reality by presenting spectacular variations in scale. The monumental installation Daily, 2016, composed of everyday objects hung from the ceiling, as if sewn to giants, generates a Lilliputian experience. Walking among enormous trinkets, the visitor experiences a strange inversion of proportions: the objects we routinely handle and which fit in the palm of the hand, are now out of reach. We feel as if we were in the shoes of Alice in Wonderland who had just swallowed a shrinking potion.