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b. 1943, France

Annette Messager Biography

Drawing from the everyday, memory, and fairytales, Annette Messager creates dark yet humorous assemblages and installations that interrogate diverse aspects of women's lives, from their role in society to childhood play, and the human body.

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After she studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (1962–1966), Messager was affected by the student and worker riots of May 1968 and the rise of the feminist movement. As the traditional hierarchical and autocratic codes of French society disintegrated, she found that art was now to be encountered in the ordinary, non-institutional spaces of life.

Annette Messager's works from the 1970s often incorporate material from mass-circulated media to examine the roles and representation of women. The 81 images in Voluntary Torture (1972), taken from fashion magazines, reveal close-ups of women's faces or bodies while receiving various 'tortures', as Messager dubbed them, to meet the standard conventions of feminine beauty. In My Collection of Proverbs (1974), the artist stitched misogynistic phrases onto pieces of cloth, revealing their ludicrousness and employing embroidery—then commonly overlooked as women's work—to create works of art.

In the 1980s, Annette Messager began to explore the human body in her installations, drawing inspiration from her experiences and both historical and contemporary media. Her 'Mes Trophées' (My Trophies) series (1986–1988) consists of highly contrasted black-and-white photographs, many depicting hands and feet, over which the artist painted illustrations and symbols reminiscent of medieval manuscripts, children's books, and tattoos. 'My Vows' (1988–1991) was a wall installation in the form of a cluster of small monochrome photographs of assorted body parts suspended from the wall by strings.

While continuing to engage with the human body in the 1990s, Messager introduced stuffed figures into her installations. Animal toys were trapped tightly between piles of books in Fables and Tables (1991), while woollen sculptures in the shape of internal organs were hung from the ceiling in Penetration (1992–1994). Such soft sculptures gradually replaced the taxidermy animals Messager had used since the 1970s, notably in her 'Boarders at Rest' series (1971–1972), for which she created tableaux with stuffed sparrows.

Many of Messager's later works feature kinetic elements and a sense of the ominous, as if plucked out of dark fairytales. Representing France at the 51st Venice Biennale, the artist created Casino (2005): a room-scale installation inspired by the tales of Pinocchio. Swathes of blood-red fabric evocatively poured through the room while puppet heads turned and spun; the work was awarded that year's Golden Lion for best national pavilion. In Sans Légende—Untitled (2011–2012), small objects wrapped in black foil fill the floor as three inflatable spheres move up and down. A projection of a clock on the wall suggests a world facing impending doom—an allusion to real-life conflicts.

Messager held her first American retrospective exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1995. Recent notable solo exhibitions include Annette Messager—Alberto Giacometti, Nos Chambres, Giacometti Foundation, Paris (2018); Annette Messager: Dessus Dessous, Musée des Beaux Arts and Cité de la dentelle et de la mode, Calais (2015); and Annette Messager: Motion/Emotion, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2014). In 2016, Messager was awarded the Praemium Imperiale international arts award for sculpture by the Japan Art Association.

Annette Messager lives and works in the Malakoff district of Paris.

Ocula | 2019

Exhibition view: Group Exhibition, On Hannah Arendt : The Crisis in Culture, Richard Saltoun Gallery, London (28 September–13 November 2021). Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery.

Annette Messager Featured Artworks

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Sleeping Arms by Annette Messager contemporary artwork sculpture
Annette MessagerSleeping Arms, 2017Down jackets sleeves, mixed media, black acrylic paint
106 x 103 x 16 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Contact Gallery
Sleeping Pacific by Annette Messager contemporary artwork sculpture
Annette MessagerSleeping Pacific, 2017Duvets, mixed media, black acrylic paint, string
280 x 156 x 42 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Contact Gallery
Sleeping Double Grey by Annette Messager contemporary artwork sculpture
Annette MessagerSleeping Double Grey, 2017Duvets, mixed media, black acrylic paint, string
210 x 145 x 23 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Contact Gallery
Sleeping Blue by Annette Messager contemporary artwork sculpture
Annette MessagerSleeping Blue, 2017Duvet, mixed media, black acrylic paint, string
122 x 77 x 45 cm
Richard Saltoun Gallery Contact Gallery
Mes désirs-seins by Annette Messager contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Annette MessagerMes désirs-seins, 2019Acrylic on paper
31.3 x 24.3 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
Coeur Squelette by Annette Messager contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Annette MessagerCoeur Squelette, 2019Acrylic on paper
62.5 x 39 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Annette Messager contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Annette MessagerUntitled, 2019Acrylic on paper
30 x 77 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
Coeur by Annette Messager contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Annette MessagerCoeur, 2019Acrylic on paper
60.5 x 49 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery

Annette Messager Current & Recent Exhibitions

Annette Messager Represented By

Marian Goodman Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Marian Goodman Gallery London, New York, Paris

Annette Messager In Ocula Magazine

Annette Messager In Related Press

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