Marcel Broodthaers

Marcel Broodthaers
Born Marcel Broodthaers
(1924-01-28)28 January 1924
Died 28 January 1976(1976-01-28) (aged 52)
Nationality Belgian
Known for Sculpture, Poetry, Artist's book, Installation,
Notable work Un Coup de Dés Jamais N'Abolira Le Hasard, 1969
Movement Conceptual Art
Broodthaers' tomb, Ixelles Cemetery

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.

Life and career

Broodthaers 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,[1] at the end of 1963 he decided to become an artist and began to make objects.[2] 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."[3]

Broodthaers made his first film in 1957, and from 1967 he produced over 50 short films in documentary, narrative, and experimental styles.[4][5]

Broodthaers later worked principally with assemblies of found objects and collage, often containing written texts. He incorporated written language in his art and used whatever was at hand for his raw materials—most notably the shells of eggs and mussels, but also furniture, clothing, garden tools, household gadgets and reproductions of artworks.[6] In his Visual Tower (1966), Broodthaers made a seven-story circular tower of wood. He filled each story with uniform glass jars, and in every jar he placed an identical image taken from an illustrated magazine, of the eye of a beautiful young woman.[7] For Surface de moules (avec sac) (Surface of mussels (with bag)) (1966), he glued mussels in resin on a square panel;[8] in 1974 the artist added a discreet metal hook to the centre of the work designed to support a shopping bag filled with mussel shells.[9]

From 1968 to 1975 Broodthaers produced large-scale environmental pieces that reworked the very notion of the museum.[10] 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 Kunsthalle Düsseldorf for an exhibition in 1970 and at documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972. In 1970 Broodthaers conceived of the Financial Section, which encompassed an attempt to sell the museum "on account of bankruptcy." The sale was announced on the cover of the Art Cologne fair catalogue in 1971, but no buyers were found. As part of the Financial Section, the artist also produced an unlimited edition of gold ingots stamped with the museum's emblem, an eagle, a symbol associated with power and victory. The ingots were sold to raise money for the museum, at a price calculated by doubling the market value of gold, the surcharge representing the bar's value as art.[11] In 1975 Broodthaers presented the exhibition "L’Angelus de Daumier" at the Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Paris, at which each room had the name of a colour.[12] In La Salle Blanche (The White Room) (1975), a life-size copy of a room and a half in Broodthaers' home in Brussels, the wooden walls of the empty, unfurnished rooms are covered with printed words in French—such as museum, gallery, oil, subject, composition, images, and privilege—all intended to examine "the influence of language on perceptions of the world and the ways museums affect the production and consumption of art."[13][14] 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. Indeed, Broodthaers' Musée d'Art Moderne, his "first fictional museum," allowed him to simultaneously posture as artist, director, curator and trustee in a self-reflexive examination of the order and prescriptions implicit in the production of museum exhibits.[15]

From late 1969, Broodthaers lived mainly in Düsseldorf, Berlin, and finally London.[16] He died of a liver disease[17] in Cologne, Germany on his 52nd birthday. He is buried at Ixelles Cemetery in Brussels under a tombstone of his own design.


In 1980, the exhibition "Marcel Broodthaers" was mounted by the Tate Gallery, London. Other important retrospectives of Broodthaers’ work have been held at the Walker Art Center (1989), Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1989); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1989); Jeu de Paume, Paris (1991); and Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels (2000). An important solo exhibition of the film work, "Marcel Broodthaers: Cinéma", was shown at Fundacio Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1997). The first Solo Show in Austria was presented 2003 at Kunsthalle Vienna. In 2010, an exhibition of Major Works was shown at Michael Werner Gallery, New York. The 1975 artwork "Decor: A Conquest" was exhibited in 2013 at Michael Werner Gallery, London, with the exhibition "Bricks 1966-1975" running concurrently in the gallery. In 2015 the Fridericianum presented a comprehensive retrospective featuring works from all of the artist's creative periods.[18] The Museum of Modern Art, New York, has scheduled a major retrospective of the artist for February 14 through May 15, 2016.

There have been many notable international group exhibitions, including documenta 10, 7 and 5, Kassel (1997, 1982, and 1972).[19]

In 2016 the Paul Kasmin Gallery presented Marcel Broodthaers on view from March 3 – April 23, 2016 at 515 West 27th Street New York.

The exhibition featured important unique works illustrating Broodthaers’ broad range in material and format, including his seminal series of paintings on vacuum-formed plastic, multi-part canvas works, drawings, photography and installation. This show also marked the first time the artist’s complete editions and books have been shown together in the United States and includes twenty artist books from 1957 – 1975, as well as twenty-six editioned works from 1964-1975.


Notes and references

  1. Oxford Art Online; Essay on Broodthaers by Michael Compton
  2. Marcel Broodthaers Tate.
  3. quoted in Marcel Broodthaers, Tate Gallery, 1980 p13
  4. Marcel Broodthaers Tate.
  5. The Films of Marcel Broodthaers: Between Art History and Film Studies, 15 May 2010 University of Chicago.
  6. Suzanne Muchnich (18 July 1989), Sincerely Insincere Los Angeles Times.
  7. John Russell (23 April 1989), An Antic, Insubordinate Performer Babel? New York Times.
  8. Souren Melikian (28 June 2012), Modern Blue Chips Avert Downturn New York Times.
  9. Marcel Broodthaers, Surface de moules (avec sac) (Surface of mussels (with bag)) (1966) Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 27 June 2012, London.
  10. John Russell (23 April 1989), An Antic, Insubordinate Performer Babel? New York Times.
  11. Marcel Broodthaers, Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section Financière (Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, Financial Section) (1970-1971) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  12. Marcel Broodthaers, La Salle blanche (1975) MACBA, Barcelona.
  13. Suzanne Muchnich (18 July 1989), Sincerely Insincere Los Angeles Times.
  14. Michael Brenson (15 June 1984), For Jean Cocteau, Word Was Multifarious New York Times.
  15. Alberro, Stimson, Alexander and Blake (2009). Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists' Writings. Cambridge: The MIT Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-262-01316-1.
  16. Marcel Broodthaers Tate.
  17. Suzanne Muchnich (18 July 1989), Sincerely Insincere Los Angeles Times.
  19. Marcel Broodthaers: SECTION CINÉMA, 9 September – 16 October 2010 Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris.
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