New York

Ann Messner

Bill Maynes Gallery

Though Ann Messner’s previous work—everyday, no-longer-functional objects and appliances, embedded in wax or wrapped in lead—may have communicated the pathos of the commodity become relic, it seemed cut off from the complexities of subjective expression. The artist’s recent exhibition at this small SoHo venue, marked an abrupt shift in her approach both to materials and to the mechanics of display. No longer playfully extending the tradition of the readymade, Messner, in her most recent show, employed a wide range of media to create a mysterious, moving tableau.

The central and most arresting work in the show, Coat (all works 1994) consisted of a violet wool cloak lined in red velvet, suspended from the ceiling alongside a pointed hood with holes cut out for the eyes. Numerous red ribbons cascaded from the hood to the floor, skittering off in various directions. A cast-iron megaphone stood on the other side, as if it had occupied that spot for a century. On the facing wall hung a work whose prosaic title, Photo, Forceps, Light & Belly belied the odd points of connection between the four elements. A small framed photo smeared with red wax was linked by color to a single dim red bulb, which was suspended between a pair of rusty tongs and a lowhanging impression in iron of a pregnant belly. Messner wants us to see these sequences as deliberate, but her underlying purpose is cloaked in secrecy.

The key to understanding this finely tuned ensemble seems to lie with the third piece in the show entitled Mother: a cast-iron baby bottle resting lifelessly on a small protruding shelf. This piece expresses volumes about the mixed emotions with which the artist confronts motherhood. Mother generates an aura of free-floating sadness that seems connected to that moment when it is no longer necessary to nurture, but the desire to do so remains. Having finally unleashed the emotions that have always been a hidden force in her art, it is hard to imagine that Messner would ever want to put the lid back on them again.

Dan Cameron