Marcel Boodthaers

In 1964, during his first personal exhibition at the gallery Saint-Laurent (Brussels), Marcel Broodthaers (Saint-Gilles (Brussels), 1924 - Cologne, 1976), decides to plaster the unsold copies of his fourth poetry collection Pense-Bête. By that performing action he transforms his literary production into an object, with the book becoming the major material of his vis-ual expression. The transgressive action by means of which he makes the reading of his poetic work impossible demonstrates the desire to re-configure his writing into the field of visual arts. But Marcel Broodthaers nevertheless remains a poet. Claiming both the legacy of Mallarmé and Magritte, he intends to continue his reflection on language in his plastic work. From now on, his poetic expression will be shaped in the questioning and the mise en abyme of the cognitive function of language. Between 1965 and 1966, his interest for mussels in his work is not trivial in that sense. The work he created in those two years, often mistakenly linked to the movement of the New French Realists, because of the ac-cumulation of consumption goods, seems to reveal to us, not without humour, a linguistic version of the favourite mollusc on the Belgian dinner plates, which is simultaneously recipient and content according to the rhetoric figure of tautology.

Founded in 1968 Le Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des aigles – considered the major contribution of Marcel Broodthears to the history of art – is a series of twelve installations that each take on the name of a new section of that imaginary museum. In that ironic and irreverent work his aim is to reveal an all too often forgotten reality to the viewers, i.e. the commercial vocation of art and the authority of the various museum institutions. Until 1972 – the date on which Marcel Broodthaers puts the museum up for sale through the Finances section - he continued to question the hegemonic approach of the history of art, and the status of the ‘preserver’ who recently became ‘curator’. The installation that will stand out most is the Section des figures : L'aigle de l'oligocène à nos jours presented at the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle, which will be remembered as the first event presenting an artist’s museum in a public institution. In that exhibition the visual artist achieves a real curator’s work on the figure of the eagle, of which he presents more than two hundred depictions without stylistic, aesthetic or qualitative classification. With the vocation of questioning the impact of a discourse on the reading of a work, the installation highlights the ennobling character of the exhibition as an act by playing with any value scaling between major and minor arts. The sentence “ceci n'est pas une œuvre d’art” [‘this is not a work of art’], mentioned on every cartel of the exhibition in reference to the painting by Magritte, La trahison des images (1929), goes against Duchamp by turning ready-made into an authoritarian act. For Marcel Broodthaers, affirming that an object is art is just as dictatorial as saying the opposite. Subsequently, and until his death in 1976, Broodthaers continues working on institutional criticism through an exhibition cycle on “décors” started in 1974. These last interventions, in which he re-arranges previous productions in a differ-ent way every time, underline that a work of art being part of an exhibition is nothing but the image of itself highlighting a demonstration implemented by the curator.