Marcel Broodthaers (b. 1924, Brussels, Belgium – d. 1976, Cologne, Germany). He began writing poetry at a young age, published his first poems in 1945, and by 1947 was aligned with the Belgian surrealists. Broodthaers experimented also with film, photography and journalism during this time. Broodthaers continued to write, struggling in near obscurity, for almost two decades before turning to the visual arts in 1964. “Pense-Bête”, Broodthaers’s first artwork, was a deeply symbolic sculpture comprising numerous unsold volumes of the artist’s poems embedded in a mound of plaster. A dramatic gesture of conceptual complexity and material restraint, “Pense-Bête” contains the essential artistic concepts that would drive all of Broodthaers’s subsequent work as a visual artist. Writing, both as a physical gesture and as a conceptual enterprise, is an elemental feature of Broodthaers’s sensibility, marked as it is by sharp wit and wordplay and an affectionate irony towards the conventions and institutions of contemporary art.
Marcel Broodthaers created several groundbreaking exhibitions during his brief career, most notably Eulogy of the Subject at Kunstmuseum Basel and The Angelus of Daumier at Centre Pompidou, Paris. “Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles”, a major work that occupied Broodthaers from 1969 to 1972, was included in documenta 5 in Kassel. Broodthaers died in Cologne in 1976, leaving behind an ambitious body of work that would speak to subsequent generations of artists and which remains highly relevant today. London’s Tate Gallery presented the first posthumous retrospective of the artist in 1980. Important posthumous museum exhibitions include Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1981); Kunsthalle Bern (1982); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1989); Galerie National du Jeu de Paume, Paris (1991); Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1992); Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (1997); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (2001); Kunsthalle Wien (2003); Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (2012); Aspen Art Museum (2014); Monnaie de Paris (2015); and Fridericianum, Kassel (2015).
Marcel Broodthaers, Armoire blanche et table blanche (White cabinet and white table), 1965, painted furniture with eggshells, cabinet: 86 × 82 × 62 cm; table: 104 × 100 × 40 cm. From the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA. Courtesy of the artist.