Artist/Poet/Bookmaker Marcel Broodthaers

Bookmakers know of Marcel Broodthaers most notably because of his 1969 version, Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard, of Stephane Mallarmé's original 1897 Un Coup de dés. Mimicking the length of each line of text of this already visual poem, Broodthaers created a black bar for each, making a book that looked completely redacted, blacked-out.

But I did not know Broodthaers (Belgian. Pronounced Bro-tars) was a poet himself, or that he made other books, or how devoted to and interested in typography and art he was. He was a multi-faceted artist. I was very excited to be in New York when the exhibition of his work was at the Museum of Modern Art. It was to be the only showing of his work in the United States.

Véritablement (Truly), 1968.
An image of Broodthaers"writing out Jean de La Fontaine's fable The Crow and the Fox."
(quotes from the wall text)

An invitation, printed letterpress on magazine pages. 1964.
I know letterpress printers who do this today, but had not seen any historical examples until this one.

Pense-Bête (Memory Aid). 1964.
A visual, partially redacted book.

Papa, 1963/1966.
mirror, partial chair, eggshells

L'Objet écrit (la bouteille de lait) (The object [bottle of milk]), 1967.
canvas, milk bottles, wooden shelf

Maria, 1966.
dress, hanger, shopping bag, eggshells

Étagère (Le D est plus grand que le T)
(Shelf [The D is bigger than the T]), 1966-68.
letterpress on canvas, painted shelf, cut photos, cardboard tubes, paint, printed card

Quatre pipes alphabet (Four pipes alphabet), 1969.
painted, vacuum-formed plastic.
This technique was typically used for advertising signs of the day.

Oh, we really did want to touch the typewriter.

At one point in 1969, Broodthaers created his own museum of modern art,
with the department of eagles.

Broodthaers frequently used eggshells and mussel shells in his work. In addition to his interest in flat letterforms and wordplay, he clearly liked texture and physical objects.

The Ballad of a Star over Reading Gaol, 1975.
A painted reduction and experiment, based on the 1897 poem by Oscar Wilde who wrote it in the Reading Gaol prison.

The white room, 1975.
"a faithful reconstruction of the interior of Broodthaer's apartment…"
A sign painter, as per instruction, painted "words related to art and art making" on the walls.

Some of his tools. 
I realized that the French stencils I have look exactly like the p in the upper right.

An alphabet rug made of quartz sand. Look, but don't walk.
The wall text says there's a "printed terry cloth towel" in there, somewhere.
Perhaps it is the guide for the stenciled letters?

I had read a review of the show before I saw it, then read it again afterwards. It seemed to me that the reviewer either didn't quite get why Broodthaers made what he did, or wasn't interested in the concept of playing with text as an artform. I felt that the work was perfectly suited to both the poet and the visual artist. What was curious to me was that the only work I knew of his before seeing the exhibit, the redacted poem, had no words at all. How could I have not seen anything else?

I bought some postcards in the museum. The cashier asked us if we liked the show. "Does anyone ever say no?" She said a man came in and said it was too crowded. Not the people, the work. There should have been more space between it. It turned out he was from Belgium. "You get him all the time," the cashier said to him. "This is our only chance, so we want to pack in as much as possible." The man said he saw her point.

I left the exhibit with a sense of satisfaction, inspiration, and well-being. This is the kind of show I like to see: words, images, letterforms, textures, objects, stencils, assemblage. Eventually, I suspect I will have to buy the catalogue, Marcel Broodthaers.


Jon said…
Nice article!