Annette Messager avec et sans raisons

an uneven show of of abjection and acephalic monsters

By Brian Dillon

Pinocchio dans ses entrailles, 2008. Image: © Annette Messager Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris & London

Marian Goodman Gallery, London, 19 April – 27 May

A certain pendulousness has long been essential in Annette Messager’s sculptural address to real bodies and their marionette-ish representations. That’s to say, in Messager’s work things hang around – including varieties of near-human, and their body parts. In the French artist’s first London show since her Hayward Gallery retrospective, The Messengers, in 2009, there are remnants of her most compelling forms of frail suspension, and a few instances where this modus has got way out of hand, becoming a block to late-career invention.

On the one hand there is Pinocchio dans ses entrailles (Pinocchio in his Entrails, 2008): a battered little wooden body whose implausibly large red fabric guts are trussed up with him and hung from the ceiling. On the other hand, Daily (2016): an assembly of oversize everyday objects – key, scissors, comb, phone, jewellery – draped with stuffed-fabric figures and suspended amid smaller, sculpted black rats hanging in nets. The earlier work has a visceral-whimsical ambiguity about it that harks back to some of her even earlier work: the line drawings of entrails, bones and foetus that she made on her own body for Annette Messager Trickster (1974). The new installation seems devised to invoke so sufficiently the early Messager – also, Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois – that one won’t notice the vacuous expansionism going on too.

All of this work is energetic, polemic even, but thinner in form and concept and resonance than one wants from Messager

It isn’t all grandiloquence or abjection. Somewhere between these extremes is Tututerus (2017): suspended above an electric fan so that it circles endlessly is a black tutu and under it a sculptured uterus, which is a frequent motif in the show. On the wall nearby is Utérus doigt d’honneur (Uterus Giving the Finger) (2017), a uterus in fabric, paint and papier-mâché, one of whose fallopian tubes has twisted and transmuted into a black hand giving the finger. There are more uteruses on the wallpaper, some containing skulls and others the deadpan inscription: ‘Mon uterus’. These drawings are related to the images Messager has been making of the Femen activist group in action: bare-breasted figures bearing red-acrylic slogans – ‘My Own Prophet’, ‘Fuck Your Morals’ – and in a few cases mimicking Marianne, the French national symbol of liberty and reason. All of this work is energetic, polemic even, but thinner in form and concept and resonance than one wants from Messager.

The best work at Marian Goodman is at first glance the most abstract or schematic. In a room containing otherwise one-note sculptures – ruined Barbies, big black snails with breasts for shells – Gants croix, Gants croix oblique and Gants triangle (all 2017) are svelte, acephalic geometric monsters made of string and gloves, with coloured pencils at the ends of their fingers. Unlike much of the show, they feel considered and scurrilous, filled with graphic potential.

From ArtReview Summer 2017