Encounter with an Effigy

Messager effigies_Rachel Burley

Installation view of Annette Messager’s Mes petites effigies (My Little Effigies) (1989-90). Photo: Rachel Burley

Messager effigies detail_Rachel Burley

Detail, Annette Messager’s Mes petites effigies (My Little Effigies) (1989-90). Photo: Rachel Burley

One of my favorite rooms at The Phillips Collection is the gallery just to the right of the entrance that’s currently displaying recent acquisitions. The large, open room is full of interesting pieces that remind me how revolutionary art can be, and how avant-garde the masterpieces in the permanent collection were in their own time. Currently hanging on the right wall is one of Annette Messager’s captivating installations, Mes petites effigies (My Little Effigies). I have to admit that I did not initially approach this work with any critical art historical eye, but instead was drawn to it because the hanging animals reminded me of the Beanie Babies collection I had when I was young. As I moved toward the installation to study it closer, however, all juvenile connections fell away. Although not without humor, it elicits quite a somber mood. 13 stuffed animals, holding 13 framed body parts, hang on brown string in front of 13 framed and handwritten letters. Colorful dogs, bears, cats, and even hugging otters present black and white photographs of eyes, noses, mouths, and the backs of knees. They can’t help but seem like portraits, especially when the framed writing behind them announces what they are—hesitation, confusion, obstacle, reconciliation.

What is exceptional about Messager’s installation is how quickly and powerfully it engages the viewer’s imagination. Who are these effigies to her? And who might they be to me? The unexpected visual cues inspire endless interpretations, which is the mark of great art.

Rachel Burley, Marketing & Communications Intern