Marcel Broodthaers: Words, Things, Concepts

From e-flux mailing list.

Akbank Sanat opens the 2014–15 season with one of the most prominent founders of the conceptual art of the 20th century, conceptual artist and poet Marcel Broodthaers, who is regarded to be an école in his own right. Besides using writing, words and text as subjects in his wide-ranging conceptual works, Broodthaers has also situated "ready-mades" at the center of his work. Moreover, after a while he started studying extensively at the conceptual level and built the backbone of his art from concepts. Due to these qualities of his, Broodthaers have been regarded as one of those artists whose works have given birth to contemporary art as a full-fledged field of art. The exhibition has been organized in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum van Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.) in Ghent, which holds the largest collection of works by the artist. The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of additional events, such as conferences and film screenings.

Marcel Broodthaers is one of the pivotal figures of the contemporary art scene. There is something peculiar about Broodthaers. Broodthaers passed away almost 40 years ago, in 1976. Yet, today, he is regarded as a living artist, as someone who has never deserted this world. That is the extent of his vitality and prolificacy. It is correct that he is not actually producing anymore. However, the vivacity emanating from his works, the contemporaneity of his pieces inspires the production of genuine artworks.

The interesting point is this: Before taking interest in art in an almost revolutionary way; as it were, thoroughly transforming the established order of visuality, Broodthaers engaged in poetry and "writing," that is, in "words," for approximately 20 years. In 1963, he decided to venture into the world of visuality, of images.

Not that he was completely detached from the world of visuality in those 20 years. He made his first short film in 1957, and he continued producing films after 1967; that is, after his decision to become a visual artist.

In his involvement in visuality as a poet, he did something that can be regarded as ordinary today, though was exceptional for his day. He began to examine the relationship between words and the images, or rather visualities, that correspond to them in the human consciousness. The opposite was also within the scope of his endeavor: he explored the relation of visuality, of images to words at the level of consciousness.

It should be acknowledged that the endeavors of Broodthaers almost coincided with those of Kosuth in the mid-1960s, which paved the way for the movement termed Conceptual Art today. Lawrence Weiner and On Kawara are other artists that belong to the same current. Kosuth has been frequently compared with Broodthaers. However, the works Kosuth produced with reference to Freud, psychoanalysis, Wittgenstein and indeed Plato, and his series titled "Art as Idea as Idea" seemed to come forth rather spontaneously.

There were two major influences underlying Broodthaers's art. After 1945, the Belgian artist had participated in the Surrealist movement. Surrealism played a pivotal role in revealing that reality was not one-dimensional, making use of a wide variety of sources. The cultural ferment of Belgium had contributed greatly to this formation, acting as another influence.

It is impossible to ignore the major contributions Magritte made in this area. It is not a coincidence that Broodthaers displayed particular interest in the artist and reproduced his images. In this context, the significance of Magritte's 1928–29 dated painting The Treachery of Images, which portrays an image of a pipe with the words This is not a pipe and which occupies an important place in the imagery of the public, is undeniable. Although the influence is indisputable, Broodthaers's works surpassed Rene Magritte's famous painting in depth and scope.

As for his truly revolutionary works, they would follow after a short while. The artist was eagerly reflecting on the concept of museum. Museum is a complex concept. It is interrelated with art history, history, ideology, identity, and above all, memory. Broodthaers's works that date back to 1968, and which problematize the concept of museum, are path-breaking. Only in the 2000s the world in large could attain that level of thought.

A final remark needs to be made in order to present a better picture of Broodthaers's tremendous creativity. Not to mention the inner philosophy of his works, as a poet and an artist dealing with the inner and counter relations between verbal and visual language, Broodthaers has opened another path still much frequented today: he embarked upon the "deconstruction and reconstruction" of iconic works, of poetry books. The fact that Broodthaers applied this method upon which deconstruction would build upon in later years indicates the scope of his genius.

His was maybe a short-lived yet truly a revolutionary adventure between words, objects and concepts that thoroughly altered art history.

1977 public://oct1_akbank_img.jpg

Postal address:
Kunstakademiet i Trondheim
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
N-7491 Trondheim

Visiting address:
Innherredsveien 7 (Industribygget)

Contact form
adm [at]
Tel. +47 73 59 79 00
Fax. +47 73 59 79 20