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…
Marcel Broodthaers, 1964.
Thus began Marcel Broodthaers’ life as a visual artist, leaving behind an earlier career as a poet, bookseller, museum guide, and general intellectual provocateur of Brussels café society. His first known work of art was the entombment in plaster of fifty unsold copies of his book of poetry Pense-Bête.
Broodthaers died at age fifty-two in 1976 and therefore had only twelve years as a visual artist, but in it he created an astonishing number and variety of influential objects including some twenty artist books. Early in life he had come under the influence of the surrealists, especially fellow Belgian René Magritte who introduced him to Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés with its abstruse language and typographical innovations. It would later serve as the inspiration for one of his most enduring and influential books.
In his bookworks as well as in his work with other media (film, print, assemblages, typographical paintings, photographs, ephemera, and installations) he never lost an element of the unsettling playfulness of surrealism. In 1968 he embarked on a project comprising eight or nine installations in various venues all entitled the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles ,Nineteenth Century Section, a fictional museum that began in his house in Brussels with works that in various fashions represented eagles. Broodthaers organized this project as a way to focus attention on how institutional context influences or in some cases delineates the social and economic significance of a work of art. Along with Michael Asher, Daniel Buren, and Hans Haack, he was a founding father of institutional critique, a small school of artists who made art that reflects critically on its own place in arts institutions both commercial and noncommercial.
The short span of his career as a visual artist makes more impressive the impact of his continuing influence. Since his death Broodthaers work has been shown at Documenta (1997, 1982) and the Venice Biennale (1980, 1978, 1976), and there have been major retrospectives at the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels. In 2012, he had solo shows at the Museo d’Arte Moderna de Bologna and at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur.
Books with Marcel Broodthaers available from Boreas Fine Art:
Broodthaers, Marcel (after Stéphane Mallarmé). Image; Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard. Antwerp: Galerie Wide White Space. 1969.
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