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ANNLEE: SIGN OF THE TIMES

In 1999, PIERRE HUYGHE and PHILIPPE PARRENO purchased the rights to a manga drawing from a Japanese firm and called on a dozen artist friends to realize works based on that cartoon character, whom they named Annlee. The fruits of their communal effort were brought together for the first time in “No Ghost Just a Shell,” a traveling exhibition that began its international tour at the Kunsthalle Zürich last year. Philip Nobel considers the venture, currently on view at both the Institute of Visual Culture, in Cambridge, England, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

I met Annlee one day last August, in the Fifty-seventh Street gallery of Marian Goodman, who represents Pierre Huyghe, one of the men who until recently might have been referred to as Ann’s co-owners but who have been reduced, through their own legal sleight of hand, to being just two among her many employers (handlers? puppeteers?). I was a little nervous. I had heard so much about Ann: how she had been created in the strangeness of Japan by a kind of manga talent agency, how she was condemned to death by commerce, given life by art, and was now facing some unknowable third state—release.

I knew before seeing her that she would be a simple girl, not much more than a pair of wide anime eyes—that quintessence of the Japanese weakness for cute—shot through as they always are with Starburst novas. Like most of us, she was conceived as an extra. The anonymous draftsman at that Tokyo house,

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