PRINT December 1995

Pascaline Cuvelier


The worst calamity that can befall a living artist is to be accorded a retrospective. Suddenly the artist finds herself at her own funeral—eulogized for her accomplishments as the remains of her artistic production lie in state. Kind of rough. ANNETTE MESSAGER, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, managed to elude this trap. Presenting her work under the ironic title of “Faire Parade” (Showing off), she disregarded chronology, mixing her various periods and styles. Usually those who exhibit here view this churchlike space as an opportunity to exercise their egos, but Messager had the (almost sacrilegious) idea of dividing the museum’s great nave into a series of intimate spaces. With this show, the spectator was treated to a measure of humor and inventiveness, to the chance to examine, up close, work from each of her playful categories: “La Collectioneuse” (The collector), “La Femme Pratique” (The practical woman), “La Truqueuse” (The cheater), “La Colporteuse” (The gossip), “L’Amoureuse” (The woman in love), and “La Paradeuse” (The show-off). All these “personas”—mainstays since 1971—are as fresh and astute as ever, making this the first retrospective in memory that didn’t seem fossilized.


REBECCA HORN’s work has been highly regarded for years, so naturally everyone was pleased to hear that she was coming to Paris to exhibit in three different places: the chapel of the Salpétrière, the Galerie de France, and the Jeu de Paume. The result? Disaster. This attentive choreographer of slow-moving machines, this magical builder of little nothings, became a caricature of herself. Blue Bath, 1995—a multitude of stacked beds in the chapel—was empty and grandiloquent, the text beneath the vitrines pretentious, and the gigantic cord that once rang at mass shook like a terrified earthworm. Only a little hammer striking a centuries-old wall (Les Petits Mataux [The little hammers], 1995) redeemed itself. No emotions at the Galerie de France either, where tired effects (except for the rather droll little drums with their noisy drumsticks) reigned. The biggest fiasco was the retrospective of Horn’s films at the Jeu de Paume: in one, Cutting through the Past, the interviewer declares Horn the most significant director he had met since Fellini; another documents her megalomaniacal museum shows, which must have required an armada of technicians to install. The extravagance and gigantic scale of these installations spoiled the delicacy of her original intentions. A real shame.

Pascaline Cuvelier writes on art and culture for Libération.

Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman.