Adopting new perspectives and unconstrained by existing styles, Annette Messager has, since the 1970s, created a huge body of work that highlights the inner complexities and conflicts that affect the human condition and in particular the question of what constitutes a woman’s identity. Choosing the stance of an outsider, challenging authority, she delivers messages of powerful social and feminist import through her art. Messager’s work, created from household items, magazines and objects from daily life, frequently demonstrates a surreal, playful or humorous character that is often connected to memory or poetry. In 1982, she broke new ground with an ambitious, large scaled work entitled Chimaeras
that fused photomontage with fantasy. Following its success she has worked with stereotypically feminine materials and motifs – using items of clothing, stuffed toys, embroidery and yarn, and combining them with photographs of fragmented body parts and animal taxidermy to create powerfully affecting pieces. She has exhibited widely, including at the Mori Art Museum in Japan in 2008 with a large-scale solo exhibition. In 2005 she won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale.
Influenced by her father, who was both an architect and an amateur painter, Annette Messager’s creativity began at an early age. She recalls, “My father would always give me colored crayons and paints, so it was completely natural in my case.”
While a student at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Messager entered a photo contest and won the grand prize – a world tour ticket – enabling her to explore other cultures through travels to not only Europe but also to countries such as India, Israel, Nepal and Japan. After graduation, inspired by the avant-garde art of Jean Dubuffet and informed by directly viewing the establishment in collapse during the May Revolution uprising of 1968, she says became keenly aware that Art was not merely the province of authoritative institutions such as museums, but belonged to the street and to daily life.
The following year, 1969, Messager came to the public’s attention when she exhibited a sculptural installation and print works in Paris. During the 1970s she presented her Album Collection
– a series of collections of everyday items and The Serials
series inspired by film posters. In 1982, she showed a large scaled work entitled Chimaeras
, which fused photomontage with fantasy.
Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, she worked with stereotypically feminine motifs and materials such as stuffed toys, clothing, embroidery and yarn, combining them with photographs of body parts and taxidermy animals to create works that explore duality. She also experimented with exhibition formats, hanging objects from the ceiling or having them jut out of surfaces; walls, floors and ceilings.
Adopting new perspectives, unconstrained by existing styles, Messager has created a huge body of work that highlights human beings’ inner complexities and conflicts. In the artist’s words, “There's invariably a reverse side to both objects and human beings that stand in opposition to each other. I start out without any preconceived ideas. I strive to be neutral, to be empty. I absorb all that I can see. Artists are thieves. They snatch everything.”
Since the turn of the century, Messager has also been using computer technology to create kinetic works. In 2005, she won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for her work, Casino
, based on the tale of Pinocchio. Recently, she has also been creating ambitious works that incorporate political messages, such as those focusing on the provocative protests by the feminist activist group, FEMEN.
Her first large-scale solo exhibition in Japan, Annette Messager: The Messengers
, was held in 2008 at the Mori Art Museum. She is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about traditional Japanese culture, enjoying wearing Kyoto ‘yuzen’ kimonos and drawing technical inspiration from the ukiyo-e printmaker Utagawa Kuniyoshi.