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14.6.04

New Annette Messager Installation

The normal home of the Musée de l'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is the Palais de Tokyo. That building has been closed for many months for renovations (until March 2005), and the museum has been sponsoring special exhibits, of both its permanent collection and controversial new art, in other museums and historical sites like the old Couvent des Cordeliers on the Rue de l'Ecole-de-Médecine in the 6th arrondissment. (See Olivier Celik, Intrusions amicales de Musée d'art moderne [Friendly invasions by the Museum of Modern Art], June 12, in Le Figaro.) Elisabeth Lebovici's article (Messager met les voiles, June 12) in Libération reviews one of these exhibits, Sous vent by Annette Messager, at the Couvent des Cordeliers.

A vast stretch of dark silk cloth covers almost the entire length (56 meters [184 feet]) of one of the two large halls of the Convent of the Cordeliers. The thing starts to move, to swell. Certain sections of it light up under the silk. The timed lighting reveals things under the cloth that covers them: threadlike elements, a system of veins, an invertebrate mass, fetal forms, crustaceans with separated claws, humanoid masks. An entire phosphorescent constellation thus seems, by virtue of the veil that serves as a filter, as indefinite as oceanic life seen from above the waves. Seventeen or eighteen minutes—no one, not even the artist, is really sure of the exact length of time—have passed, and then it begins again. Conclusion: "There is a woman under there," as one of the characters, who was himself a painter, cried out in a famous short story by Balzac, Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu [1845]. In effect, it's Annette Messager, the woman under this event.
You can see some images of the installation here. (Sous vent means literally "under the wind," but the title is also a pun for the word souvent, or "often.") For the reviewer, one element of this installation, a childsize bathtub placed in a luminous red placenta, recalls the bathtub in which Jean-Paul Marat was assassinated, canonized by Jacques-Louis David in his famous portrait. As it turns out, Marat's body was brought to the Couvent of the Cordeliers after the assassination, which happened in Marat's apartment in the Rue des Cordeliers. After the poet's gangrenous arm had been amputated, David was allowed to make sketches of the body for his portrait, before the corpse was buried in the convent's garden. (The Franciscans had been turned out of the convent some time before, and it had become the meeting place of the Club des Cordeliers, of which Danton and Marat were the leaders.) The other artist recalled by Messager's installation, according to the reviewer is the dancer Loïe Fuller, who used veils and colored lights in her act (see Ionarts post on June 7).

An older Annette Messager installation, called Mes petites effigies (My little effigies, from 1988), is being shown again in, of all places, the Musée National du Moyen-Âge in the Hôtel de Cluny, until September 6. Messager's work is normally shown at Marian Goodman, at 79, rue du Temple, in the 3rd arrondissement. (I especially like her new sculpture Picquet de grève, which shows a dead animal impaled on two spears with the message "Spectacle annulé" [Performance cancelled] connecting them, a reference to the strike activities of the intermittents du spectacle, which have cancelled numerous festivals.) She will be interviewed by Libération on July 6.

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