installation art

Annette Messager, Les interdictions (2014)

January 30, 2016


As 1968 begins to pass out of living memory, the date begins to lose its power. Sadly. We are by now a long way from barricades and a long way from a revolutionary tipping point. It seems.

Perhaps to keep the memory alive and honour the students who could have brought down a Western government, this artwork by 72-year old Messager comprises 68 prohibition signs. (’68!)

We can only assume the artist had some fun redesigning these interdictions. How else could we actually enjoy the sight of a wall plastered with the evidence of the human bent for authority?

As things stand you might well relish the comedy value. It has been decreed from on high that in the gallery today, we we cannot feed monkeys, have sex in spas, or drive wearing a burqa.

Says Museum director Barbara Forest in the catalogue: “The absence of context renders the signposting more derisory, more absurd, more ridiculous, more grotesque and more serious”.

Of course the rules here don’t apply. Artists are traditionally people who break rules, rather than people who enshrine them. So these handmade prohibitions are fairly dripping with irony.

All but one of the signs is based on a real world referent. The exception, which proves the rest of the rules, is top right: no prostitution. Another tradition of artists is that you don’t sell out.

But since this work is a roundabout celebration of freedom, that must include the freedom to capitalise on your artistic talents and, in one way or another join the establishment. 

There is a figurative element to this installation. It features more than a dozen mannequins, more than a dozen child-sized snowsuits. None of us chafe against rules more than children do.

Yet do we not make a good many rules for the good of our young? Messager may evoke 1968 in this major work, but that’s not to say she might not be very ambivalent about the laws of man.

Les interdictions can be seen in Annette Messager: Dessus Dessous at the Musée des beaux-arts Calais until 15 May 2016.


  • Reply Lucy January 30, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    What do you mean ‘pass out of living memory’? 1968 was less than 50 years ago!

    • Reply Mark Sheerin January 31, 2016 at 1:10 am

      Hi Lucy, I know, I know, but many soixante-huitards are already no longer with us. I’m thinking of philosophers mainly, Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault. The operative word is ‘begins’ in that sentence.

  • Reply Jason Clifton January 31, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Very interesting, the artist definitely seems to be employing some humour into the art work, which you don’t see too often in art (or it doesn’t come off as very humourous). The children’s snowsuits are an intriguing addition, I like your interpretation of their part in the whole. I’d be interested to read an interview with the artist.

    • Reply Mark Sheerin February 1, 2016 at 6:14 pm

      I agree, Jay, and the funny bone being is a very reliable yardstick – if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor. I’ve got a theory that humour varies in quality from medium to medium, so the laugh you might get from comic art is different from that in a comic novel, and certainly different from a sit com. Richer, somehow, I want to say, but who knows?

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