Annette Messager's installation at Gagosian brought traditional female crafts, photography and taxidermy into the world of orchestrated narrative, that universe of symphonic or even novelistic structure, where many lines continuously develop, like musical phrases or parallel narrations showing a character's progress through a novel. As you wander inside the work (this is a walk-through piece), her way of filling space, and the things she fills it with, surround you in the most interesting way.
As you walk you see lots of vertical paths your eye can follow. Some are twisted tubes of netting filled with things at irregular intervals, some are vertical rows of photographs hanging down, some are stuffed fabric words, each letter sewn to the next, hanging from ceiling to floor. A group of these vertical "lines" may stop at the same height (and they may be tinted the same color) so your eye wonders horizontally. Peering through the forest of verticals in any direction, you find unexpected and delightful art oases. Even as you focus on some of these, you are aware of the others that surround you.
A couple of the best hanging net tubes expand like cells into nuclei separated by thinner segments where you see only the net. The nuclei, seen through the net, are made of groups of rag dolls or indiscernible blobs. Here and there on the floor are gatherings of stuffed chickens, a rabbit, etc., posed as if they are eating peacefully. Nearby a stuffed fox dressed in billowing tulle seems to have stepped out of a fairy tale, and you realize another important mood-setting influence. Messager does not use sex or violence to make her pieces catch the viewer's eye -- but she does catch it, and once she has it she effectively hypnotizes you.
The installation is one grand thing but has different areas that dissolve into each other. The word area, the photography area, the rag-doll nucleus, the stuffed animal zone, each dominates some square yards each. Stuffed gloves, sewn to each other in several combinations (fingers to fingers, fingers to wrists, sides to wrists, etc.), are a conceptual segment. So are the hanging words. Colors and hues don't vary much, more magenta and purple and brown than anything else, which in the dim light accounts for some of the hypnotic quality of the work. Coming back to the forest, rather than the tree, the charm and challenge in this piece is to continue to be traditionally female and also childish, without precluding the pleasure of thought and a sophisticated esthetic.
Annette Messager at Gagosian, Jan. 18-Feb. 22, 1997, 136 Wooster, New York, NY 10012.
EDUARDO COSTA is a writer who lives and works on the Internet.