Marcel Broodthaers, Belgian (1924 - 1976)
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.
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, at the end of 1963 he decided to become an artist and began to make objects. 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 made his first film in 1957, and from 1967 he produced over 50 short films in documentary, narrative, and experimental styles.
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. 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. For Surface de moules (avec sac) (Surface of mussels (with bag)) (1966), he glued mussels in resin on a square panel; 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.
From 1968 to 1975 Broodthaers produced large-scale environmental pieces that reworked the very notion of the museum. 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. 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. 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." 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.
From late 1969, Broodthaers lived mainly in Düsseldorf, Berlin, and finally London. He died of a liver disease in Cologne, Germany on his 52nd birthday. He is buried at Ixelles Cemetery in Brussels under a tombstone of his own design.