Hartford

Annette Lemieux

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

In Part II of “The Rodin Book,” written in 1907, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of the sublime in relation to silence and suggestion: “I am as one who would remind you of your childhood. No, not only of your childhood, but of everything that ever was childhood. For my purpose is to awaken memories in you which are not yours, which are older than you; to restore connections and renew relationships which lie in the distant past.” Annette Lemieux works within this realm of collective memory. Her work depicts a broad history of Everyman through an insinuating poetry that refers to that memory and the abstract rendering of the same. Lemieux’s strategy is the narrative. She presents a memory theater whose set is decorated with the relics and ruins of our exasperated culture; a portrait of the bleak American landscape and those who have made and continue to make her history.

In this exhibition, Lemieux showed paintings, drawings, photographs, and objects made between 1984 and 1988. Raoul, 1984, contains a direct reference to the artist’s father. Two small, amateurish paintings of his—one an odd sort of landscape, the other a rather silly portrait—are installed one above the other. Below them, Lemieux has painted a wreathlike circle directly on the wall. A thin sheet of Plexiglas covers the entire surface of the work, making it untouchable; not for the hands. Other works use a similar tactic, but make use of histories that are less personal. Keeper, 1987, has a silvery-white surface, which serves as the pristine setting for a yellow-gold circle. In the circle’s center, Lemieux has inserted a star-shaped photograph from a Life magazine of the 1940s; the image of an American housewife standing on her front lawn, surrounded by tablewear, linens, pots, pans, towels, etc.—all of the things she will need for a week’s worth of housework. Lemieux targets the clichés associated with the commonplace while making them seem almost holy; her use of silver and gold, for instance, suggests a state of beatitude. Keeper also salutes the individual hero. This is much the point of her project: to lift every life to grandeur.

What differentiates Lemieux from other artists currently making objects dealing with issues of isolation and displacement is the depth of her work. She does not make objects that appear aged or tattered or torn; her effects are reached in a suggestive manner, not a literal one. Lemieux demonstrates an ability to conceive, an ability to depict, and a versatility in approach. She has said, “Art is about invention, not about making pictures.” This exhibition shows her to be a great inventor and an intriguing artist. Each of the works shown here tells us a story about artist and viewer alike. I feel, therefore you feel, I think therefore you think: an attempt at conjoining the self and the other.

Christian Leigh