Saturday, March 6, 2010

Marcel Broodthaer

Marcel Broodthaers (January 28, 1924 – January 28, 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[1], 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." Broodthaers, 1964[2]

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.

Marcel Broodthaers was a poet and bookseller until age forty, when he turned to Conceptual art by creating a sculptural work composed of fifty copies of one of his poetry books, cast in plaster. He later became known for paradoxical word-image juxtapositions, as well as large-scale installations simulating museum exhibitions and assemblages made in part with eggshells, mussel shells, and European household goods. He also created paintings, films, performances, and sound pieces. In general, Broodthaers's work focuses on the ways in which social, economic, and institutional constructs influence and affect art's meaning.

Broodthaers's printed work consists of twenty-six individual prints, several in diptych format, and some twenty artist's books, mostly created to function as part of his Conceptual projects rather than as explorations of printmaking techniques. The diptych Museum-Museum presents Broodthaers's views on an institution of culture, which, he believes, decontextualizes art. Here identical bars of gold bullion are each stamped with an eagle, a reference to the "Eagle Department" in his fictional museum. On the left, they are labeled with artists' names, such as Mantegna, Ingres, and Duchamp, and on the right, with names of commodities such as sugar, tobacco, and chocolate. The bars along the bottom row of each panel carry the following captions: "IMITATION," "KOPIE," "COPIE," "FALSCH," and "ORIGINAL." By integrating issues of art and commerce, Broodthaers raises questions concerning the reduction of art objects to basic exchange commodities. Created for one of his mock museum installations, this print implicates museums for their role as treasuries of artistic currency and for their collaboration in the process of commodification as they act as guarantors of aesthetic values.

Raimond Livasgani

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