Shotgun Reviews

Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Andreas Petrossiants reviews Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Marcel Broodthaers. Pense-Bete (Memory Aid), 1964; books, paper, plaster and plastic balls on wooden base, without wooden base; 11 13/16 × 33 1/4 × 16 15/16 in. Courtesy of the Collection Flemish Community, long-term loan S.M.A.K. © 2016 Estate of Marcel Broodthaers, the Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, SABAM, Brussels, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Marcel Broodthaers. Pense-Bete (Memory Aid), 1964; books, paper, plaster, and plastic balls on wooden base, without wooden base; 11 13/16 × 33 1/4 × 16 15/16 in. Courtesy of the Collection Flemish Community, long-term loan S.M.A.K. © 2016 Estate of Marcel Broodthaers, the Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, SABAM, Brussels, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In Marcel Broodthaers’ poem “Question de Peinture,” he asks whether paintings by famous artists smell of “the monstrous praise of which/they are victims?”[1] We might ask whether Broodthaers’ work similarly smells in his current major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Upon first glance, it might seem this way; however, the retrospective’s attention to Broodthaers’ gesture of institutional critique allows his work’s critical voice to speak over the stink of praise.

Before declaring himself an artist in 1963, Broodthaers, influenced by Stéphane Mallarmé, wrote poetry. His career switch was not an attempt to end his poetry, but rather to continue his work with new means. Pense-Bête (1964) exemplifies this, a work created by taking the remaining unsold copies of his book by the same title, the original wrapping paper still visible, and inserting them into a plaster base, fusing plastic objects into the plaster as well. Making the book unreadable negates its functionality, and thereby questions the relationship between the art object and language.

The retrospective demonstrates Broodthaers’ continued questioning of how the institution reifies an artwork, paying specific attention to two later phases of his career. Firstly, the artist’s fictitious museum, Musée d’Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles (1968–1972), under the auspices of which he staged multiple temporary presentations, called “sections,” and in his later installations under the tagline of décor, some of which are reinstalled in the retrospective.

Taking note from Marcel Duchamp, who first utilized the found object as readymade, Broodthaers reworked its implementation and used groups of objects and even entire exhibitions as readymades, as in Section des Figures (1972), installed by his “fake” art museum referenced above. In that “section,” Broodthaers placed mundane objects, such as champagne corks, in line with traditionally accepted works of art—including one by René Magritte, and another by Gerhard Richter that was commissioned by Broodthaers. Next to each object, painterly or otherwise, was a tag in French, German, and English: “This is not a work of art.” In doing so, Broodthaers questions the value implicitly given to the art object within the institution.

Broodthaers’ meta-gesture of quasi-absurdist experimentation and his perpetual critique of art’s institutional commodification and representation shines—albeit somewhat ironically—in the MoMA retrospective, providing visitors a profound view into the entire oeuvre of the Belgian conceptual master.

Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective is on view through May 15, 2016, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

Andreas Petrossiants is finishing his undergraduate thesis at New York University this May before going to complete his MA in art history in Global Conceptualism at the Courtauld Institute in London. His studies focus on the work of contemporary artists who have adopted conceptual practices from 20th-century vanguards.

[1] Marcel Broodthaers, “Questions de ‘Peinture,’” translated by John Shepley, October vol. 42 (Autumn 1987), 13.

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