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Marcel Broodthaers
Holdings (15)
4 paintings, 1 multiple, 10 books

Wikipedia About Marcel Broodthaers

Marcel Broodthaers (28 January 1924 – 28 January 1976) was a Belgian poet, filmmaker and artist with a highly literate and often witty approach to creating art works. He was born in Brussels, Belgium, where he was associated with the Groupe Surréaliste-revolutionnaire from 1945 and dabbled in journalism, film, and poetry. After spending 20 years in poverty as a struggling poet, he performed the symbolic act of embedding fifty unsold copies of his book of poems Pense-Bête in plaster, creating his first art object. That same year, 1964, for his first exhibition, he wrote a famous preface for the exhibition catalogue; “I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life. For some time I had been no good at anything. I am forty years old… Finally the idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway. At the end of three months I showed what I had produced to Philippe Edouard Toussaint, the owner of the Galerie St Laurent. ‘But it is art’ he said 'and I will willingly exhibit all of it. ’ 'Agreed’ I replied. If I sell something, he takes 30%. It seems these are the usual conditions, some galleries take 75%. What is it? In fact it is objects. ” He worked principally with assemblies of found objects and collage, often containing written texts. His most noted work was an installation which began in his Brussels house which he called Musée d'Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles (1968). This installation was followed by a further eleven manifestations of the 'museum’, including at the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle for an exhibition in 1970 and at documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972. For such works he is associated with the late 20th century global spread of both installation art, as well as “institutional critique,” in which interrelationships between artworks, the artist, and the museum are a focus. Broodthaers died in Cologne, Germany on his 52nd birthday. He’s buried at Ixelles Cemetery in Brussels under a tombstone of his own design. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Marcel Broodthaers, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Marcel Broodthaers was a poet-turned-visual artist who made his first work in 1964, at age forty, by embedding in plaster all remaining copies of his book of poems, Pense-Bête.1 With this droll gesture he embarked on a brief but prolific career during which he made paintings, sculpture, films, books, and prints as well as exhibitions/installations of his own work, which he referred to as “décors”—all suffused with his graceful wit and love of language. He was entranced by the interplay among objects and the images, words, and ideas we use to evoke them, a focus that links his works closely to those of Belgian artist René Magritte and French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, both of whom he acknowledged as influences. But Broodthaers’ practice was a postmodern one, and as such it also addressed issues surrounding the production and consumption of art as well as the cultural conditions through which we experience it.

He managed to broach these conceptual themes in a disarmingly simple way. Many of his sculptural works were made from found objects—mussel shells, spades, wine bottles, buckets, magazine clippings—that he juxtaposed in surprising ways, as in the glass-fronted white cupboard filled completely with eggshells or the tower of glass jars containing identical photos of a woman’s glamorously made-up eyes. These are elegant objects, but also sly memoranda on the relationship between the original and the reproduction.

Broodthaers’ slide-projection piece Bateau Tableau (Boat Picture) (1973) is one of about two dozen works he made in this format.2 Its eighty images are all photographs of one object: a late nineteenth-century amateur painting of boats at sea, which he had purchased in a Paris curio shop.3 He photographed the entire canvas along with dozens of details—billowing sails, flapping flags, crew members perched on the gunwales, cloudy skies—then arranged them in a sequence that begins with shots of the painting framed, then unframed, as if it had been released from stasis and sent on its way. Thereafter, the shots vary between close-ups and long views, a rather filmic method that suggests a narrative about a journey on the high seas.

Tucked into this story are photographs of the frayed canvas tacked to the painting’s edge, and images in which the painting slips out of the film frame, as if the slide has become stuck in the projector. These pictures gently remind us that this is not a boat, but an image of one; not a painting but photographs of a painting. As Magritte demonstrated, we often confuse these categories; in this work’s rhyming title, Broodthaers gives us a linguistic demonstration of how easily we can make this mistake. He remarked, “If you repeat ‘tableau’ and ‘bateau’ ten consecutive times, you will inevitably end up by saying bateau instead of tableau and tableau instead of bateau, and by the sound of things you could hold forth on the last bateau as easily as on the last tableau.”4 Broodthaers’ literate work is similarly limber, in both mind and eye.

  1. Pense-bête is a French term for a mnemonic device, like putting a knot in a handkerchief, but also suggests the phrases “think animal” and “think stupid.” See Michael Compton, “In Praise of the Subject,” in Marge Goldwater, ed., Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1989), 24.

  2. For a discussion of Broodthaers’ many slide projections, see Anna Hakkens’ essay in Frank Lubbers, Anna Hakkens, and Maria Gilissen, eds., Marcel Broodthaers, projections, exh. cat. (Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, 1994), 10–33.

  3. Manuel J. Borja-Villel, Michael Compton, and Maria Gilissen, eds., Marcel Broodthaers: Cinéma, exh. cat. (Santiago de Compostela, Spain: Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, 1997), 226. The painting was also the subject of four related works: the films Analyse d’une Peinture (Analysis of a Painting) (1973) and Deux Films (Two Films) (1973), and a film and book of 1973–1974, both titled A Voyage on the North Sea.

  4. Quoted in Hakkens, Marcel Broodthaers, projections, 25.

Rothfuss, Joan. “Marcel Broodthaers.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center