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Annette Messager’s first retrospective exhibition in Australia opens at museum in Sydney
Annette Messager, Casino 2005. Installation view, French Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2005. Red pongee silk, string, rubber, found objects, optical fibres, fluorescent tubes, fans, software. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris and New York© Annette Messager. Photograph: Laurent Lecat.

SYDNEY.- The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia presents Annette Messager’s first retrospective exhibition in Australia. This major presentation by the internationally renowned French artist features works from the early 1970s to the present, including her large kinetic installations with mechanical and inflatable elements.

MCA Director, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor said ‘we are lucky to have such a phenomenal artist like Annette showcased at the MCA, and we hope that Sydney audiences revel in this woman’s 40+ years of practice.’

A diverse array of Messager’s works are being presented at the MCA Australia, employing everyday materials and objects including items of clothing, woolen gloves, black netting, soft toys and badges. Messager was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005 for her large-scale kinetic installation Casino (2005). Inspired by the misadventures of the wooden marionette Pinocchio, in his quest to become a boy, this ambitious work forms a highlight of the artist’s MCA Australia survey. This survey of works encompasses the artist’s extensive practice across drawing, photography, embroidery, sculpture and installation.

MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent explains: ‘Annette Messager has created an eccentric menagerie of creatures since her debut in the Paris art scene in 1971-72. Animal, human, monstrous or something in-between, her creations suggest the complexity of life as well as the mythologies, superstitions and vanities that underpin it – the shadowy ‘other’ within us all.’

Exhibition highlights include the artist’s Chimères — Chimeras (1982-84) or human-animal hybrids combining painting and photography; her black and white photographic assemblages of body parts and limbs entitled Mes voeux — My vows (1989); and the installation Les Lignes de la main — Lines of the hand (1988) with its hand-written texts that flow from photographs of outstretched palms, downwards onto the gallery wall below. Recent works include her vast kinetic installation Sans légende — Untitled (2011-12), a darkened cityscape punctuated by small rotating lights and shadow projections of a walking man, dog, and clock face that keeps real time, as though warning us of imminent danger.

Language and text are central to Messager’s two and three-dimensional works. A series of evocative words and objects, woven from heavy black netting between 2006-2012, introduces the exhibition. Messager describes the words, Chance, Désir, as optimistic in contrast with the heaviness of the netting, which sags and droops upon the gallery wall. Messager’s darkly humorous glove works of 1999 are presented adjacent, their knitted fingers replaced by sharpened lead pencils to suggest claw-like extensions.

The human hand recurs in Messager’s work, a symbol of the creative process. It appears in Les Lignes de la main — Lines of the hand, overdrawn black-and-white photographs of open palms. In this work, identical rows of handwritten text cascade from the fingertips directly onto the gallery wall below. The individual words lose their meaning when repeated over and over, becoming a visual litany.

Narrative and story-telling are also significant aspects of the artist’s practice. Messager was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005 for her extraordinary kinetic installation Casino. This ambitious work forms a highlight of her MCA Australia survey, presented in one of the Museum’s new double-height galleries. Casino is inspired by the adventures of the wooden marionette Pinocchio and his quest to become a boy. It comprises a vast, billowing sea of red silk and a row of shadow puppets suspended from the gallery ceiling above, which rise and fall like the intake and exhalation of breath.

Messager has explored folk tales, mythical characters, and alter-egos through her works, infusing them with tragi-comic and sinister elements that question the nature of what it is to be human. Her acclaimed Chimères — Chimeras, an installation of hand-painted photographs based upon the hybrid animal-monsters of Greek legend embody this thinking.

The human body is explored and quite literally unpicked in the artist’s fabric and wool works. Works include Les Dépouilles — Skins (1997), a row of unstitched children’s clothing and emptied soft toys, which are pinned to the wall like carcasses or targets; the large installation Anatomie — Anatomy (1995–96), comprising unraveled woolen jumpers that resemble a disassembled body; and Pénétration — Penetration (1993–94), a suite of suspended bodily organs made from stuffed cotton and wool. Light bulbs are hung between the organs, their shapes casting eerie shadows across the surrounding walls that sway gently with the movement of visitors through the gallery around them.

Annette Messager was born in Berck-sur-Mer, France in 1943. She lives and works in Malakoff, France.

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