Annette Messager: The Box

6 Sep-12 Nov 2022


Pippy Houldsworth Gallery is pleased to present À mon seul désir (2016), a drawing in acrylic by leading French artist Annette Messager in The Box, the gallery’s micro project space. Renowned for an extensive body of work that encompasses a range of media including photography, needlework, sculpture and installation, Messager has always placed drawing at the heart of her practice. In À mon seul désir she explores issues of identity, both collective and individual, and the politicisation of the female body in a world of male privilege.

À mon seul désir depicts an anthropomorphised uterus, one fallopian tube twisted upwards and ending with a hand where the ovary should be, articulated into a defiant gesture with middle finger raised at the viewer. This expression of independence acts as a manifesto of female freedoms and of women’s rights to bodily autonomy. Although the uterus motif has been present in Messager’s drawings since 2016 it takes on new significance in light of the US Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the constitutional right to access legal abortion and the devastating impact this will have on reproductive justice.

The title refers to a group of six tapestries woven in Flanders around 1500 known as The Lady and the Unicorn. Widely considered one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages, the first five works in the series depicts each of the five senses, while the sixth is embroidered with the enigmatic motto, ‘À mon seul désir’. The meaning of this inscription has been widely debated; translated, it reads literally as ‘my one desire’, and yet in her drawing Messager appears to invoke an alternative, yet equally as passionate, interpretation: ‘by my own free will’. ‘Desire’, says Messager, ‘is simply life. If you don’t have desire, it’s over’.

Annette Messager (b. 1943 Berk-sur-Mer, France) lives and works in Malakoff, France. In 2016 she was awarded the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture. She won the Golden Lion for best national pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. Recent solo exhibitions include the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv (2022); Institut Giacometti, Paris (2018); Institut Valencià Art Modern (IVAM), Valencia (2018); Villa Medici, Rome (2017); Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Calais and the Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode, Calais (2015-2016); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; and K21, Düsseldorf (both 2014). A major retrospective of her work was organised by the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2007. Her works can be found in museum collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, both New York, NY; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; K21, Düsseldorf; The National Gallery, Canberra; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Book now