Marcel Broodthaers

1924 - 1976

Born in Sint-Gillis (BE), died in Köln (DE).

Marcel Broodthaers (1924, Brussels – 1976, Cologne) is one of the most intriguing artists of the twentieth century. Since his death many have tried to understand the complex, well-read and humorous artist that Broodthaers was. Broodthaers used poetry to question convention. In this way he tried to resist any political system that makes the creation of symbols its main goal. But he understood like no other that the art world cannot escape this. His work shows that what is regarded as the 'natural order' at any given moment is always the result of political practices and thus the exclusion of other possibilities. Broodthaers reminds us that the world always could have been different.

In 1942 Broodthaers began studying chemistry at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, but he soon abandoned that plan in order to devote himself entirely to poetry. In 1943 he became a member of the communist party (until 1951) and joined a Brussels literary, artistic and political community. Broodthaers worked as a bookseller in Brussels after World War II. He met Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte and René Magritte and signed the pamphlets of the 'revolutionary surrealists'. Some of his poems were  published in magazines and he made his début as a journalist in the communist magazine Le Salut Public (Hebdomadaire de précision politique et littéraire) with contributions on politics, literature and film.

From 1957 Broodthaers gave guided tours of the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels. It is there that he met Julien Coulommier, who taught Broodthaers photography. Broodthaers's first film was shown in 1958 at the experimental film festival in Knokke; La Clef de l'Horloge. Un poème cinématographique en l’honneur de Kurt Schwitters. In 1963 Broodthaers submitted four works for the Prijs van de Jonge Belgische Schilderkunst and received an award for his sculpture Monument Public n°4. Between 1957 and 1964 Broodthaers publishes four  poetry collections: Mon Livre d'Ogre by L'Enseigne de l'Arquebuse du silence in Ostend, Minuit (1960) published by Georges Houyoux (Editeur des Artistes) in Brussels and two self-published collections, La Bête Noire (1961) and Pense- Bete (1964).

In 1964 Broodthaers organised his first solo exhibition in the Brussels Galerie Saint-Laurent and exhibited, among others, Le Pense-Bête. The sculpture consists of around 50 of his recently published Pense-Bête poetry collections fixed in plaster and depicts Broodthaers' transition from poet to poet-artist. He made a striking invitation pamphlet for the exhibition Moi aussi, je me suis demandé si je ne pouvais pas vendre quelque chose… that went through the art world like a shock wave because no one dared to talk so openly about the mechanisms of art. As a conservative European at heart, Broodthaers seems not ideologically but spiritually offended by the brutal new culture of commerce and entertainment.

In 1966 Broodthaers had his first exhibition at the pioneering Wide White Space Gallery in Antwerp. The title of the exhibition betrayed what was on display: Moules Œufs Frites Pots Charbon. Pop art was the language of young artists and Broodthaers was very aware of this. But in 1967 Broodthaers reintroduced words in his work. The film Le Corbeau et le Renard shows everyday objects and photos on a background of text. At the invitation of the Wide White Space he decided to sell the film as an art object, or multiple, consisting of the actual film, two screens and prints for the wall.

In May 1968 Broodthaers participated in the occupation of the BOZAR as a mediator between the occupiers and the museum staff. Shortly afterwards Broodthaers wrote his first open letter, addressed to 'my friends', in which he distanced himself from the collective occupation. In the open letter of September 1968 Broodthaers announced the opening of his own Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles. The museum opened in 1968 at Broodthaers's home (Boomkwekerijstraat in Brussels), expanded to several cities in different sections and closed in 1972 (Documenta van Kassel, in Germany).

In 1974 Catalogue-Catalogus in the BOZAR is the first of a series of retrospective exhibitions organised by Broodthaers. In his great synthesis work Décor: In A Conquest from 1975 the artist links a bourgeois past to the consumer society of the time and the relationship between war and comfort is brought to a head.

Broodthaers is represented in the M HKA collection with several specific works, each in their own way expressing an aspect of his thinking and expressive ability, but above all, each time positioning the artist in the (art) world. Ma collection (1971) is a unique collage of his own creations to put himself in the spotlight at the art fair in Cologne, Lettre ouverte (1972) is a print designed as a premium for the Masereelcentrum and Die Welt (1973) is a series of nine typographic paintings, each evoking the world of a German historical figure (Kant, Nietzsche, Goethe, Marx, Beethoven, Hegel and Hölderlin).    


Items View all

Events View all

Ensembles View all

Media View all