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Contemporary Art in Boston: The Smart & Witty Work of Annette Lemieux


Annette Lemieux, Potential Snowman, 2001, Hydrocal with pigment (constructed spheres and cast forms), Formica on wood platform Private collection, New York © Annette Lemieux

Contemporary art is becoming all the rage (finally!) in Massachusetts. Sebastian Smee’s article in the Boston Globe, “Contemporary Art All the Rage Across Region,” (September 18, 2011) points out how MassMOCA, the ICA, and now the MFA are all giving contemporary art its due, and even The Clark Art Institute is getting into the act.

The Worcester Art Museum (WAM) has been quietly and steadily showing contemporary work for years. Now in its ninth machination, the Wall at WAM project, currently featuring Charline von Heyl, shows site-specific murals in the Renaissance Court. And, WAM brings at least one major contemporary show each year, which, for a museum of modest size, is nothing short of amazing.

At present the ‘big show’ is “The Strange Life of Objects: The Art of Annette Lemieux.” Annette Lemieux is smart, witty, and a wordsmith. If some of her subjects are dark, violent, and painful; others are humorous and joyful. The complex combination of emotions makes for a rich, life-like experience.

Earlier this week, the artist, currently on sabbatical from Harvard, spoke at the WAM about her work. Themes of war seep into her iconography, no doubt in part due to current events, but perhaps also due to her father, who has been largely absent and had a career in the marines. Her Hell on Wheels, 1991 features a grouping of “found” helmets, each set onto two axles of wheels and set into a tight formation resembling a torpedo.


Annette Lemieux, Hell On Wheels, 1991, Found steel helmets, rubber tires, steel rods, Collection of Ruth and William Ehrlich

While they read as a quirky grouping of nifty little cars, they are simultaneously unsettling as we envision them going into motion on the offensive, each individualized but moving as a single unit. This becomes even more unnerving given their juxtaposition to Hell Text of the same year. Here a journal-like entry is burned into cotton, and recounts the experience of Jews rounded up and taken to concentration camps.

Not far away from these is an installation of three spheres of descending sizes, an organic conical form and a small pile of rocks, all arranged on a platform and all painted white. This would be Potential Snowman, 2001.

Lemieux sees humor and logic in all things. When she found she had a creative block in the mid 1990s what did she do? She began depicting brick walls to represent the mental impediment, and their stifling of the creative process. These bricks came out in myriad formations, including her Moveable Obstacles #1 and #2, both of 1995. The artist uses her own measurements to create the obstacles – shingle-like brick walls on wheels. But she’s not thinking about a typical clothing measurement like 36-24-36; the 64 x 64 x 9 3/4 inch dimensions of the obstacles are her own dimensions when she is positioned like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man.

Anyone who has ever made an attempt at creativity knows that we ourselves are often our own greatest roadblocks. Sometimes these mental sneezes can actually run amok, as seen in Lemieux’s The Hard Go, also of 1995. Here bricks of various sizes and alignments are given wheels and move like a herd of cats. We expect to find them instantly underfoot and tripping us up, and yet they simultaneously flow like 495 during rush hour (for those of you who rarely venture outside of 128, or who don’t live in Boston, that means crowded but flying along in concert at 70 mph).

Lemieux sees life from her own personal perspective, but invites us to share many of the facets of her point of view, together with the full gamut of emotions that life has to offer.

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3 thoughts on “Contemporary Art in Boston: The Smart & Witty Work of Annette Lemieux

  1. Dear Robin – would you contact me via my email address as I am looking for a table that Skinners may have or not.
    Thanks, Annette

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