Marcel Broodthaers - Plug In #12


Marcel Broodthaers Plug In #12

16/09/2006 - 04/03/2007
Curator: Christiane Berndes
Artist: Marcel Broodthaers

This Plug-in shows works by Marcel Broodthaers (Brussels 1924 - 1976 Cologne) from the Van Abbemuseum collection. His Oeuvre is complex and difficult to describe.

Broodthaers worked as a writer, poet, filmmaker, photographer, journalist and visual artist. As Broodthaers himself said, he would rather have put off the choice of profession untul his death. Language as a symbol that conveys meaning is a central theme in his texts, objects, installations, films, photographs, slide projections and print. Broodthaers was a master in unravelling and reconstructing symbolic systems. In his own words: 'Since 1967, I have been using photosensitive fabric, film and slides to determine the relationship between the object and its image, as well as the one that exists between the symbol and the meaning of an object; the written document.' He pries objects from everyday life loose from their original context and gives them new cohesions and connections, subtly displaying the structures on which our perception is based. His work is critical, poetic and humorous.

Broodthaers' analysis of the context in which things are given meaning encompasses social, political and economic structures. In 1968, he opened a museum in his house on the Rue de la Pépinière in Brussels: the Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section XIXème  Siècle. It is a fictitious museum where he highlights the context in chich art is exhibited and critically examines it. The gallery contains transportation crates for works of art while postcards depicting artworks are hanging on the walls. The museum has its own stationery, invitations are sent out and the museum director holds an opening speech. The original artworks are not present. Or are they? This question is echoed by the piece 'Musée - Museum' (1972), which shows a floor plan of Broodthaers' virtual museum together with two postcards of works bythe 19th-century French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The accompanying open letter asks the reader: Où est l'original? (where is the original?). Is it about the original works on the postcard or is there a new original, a work of art that Broodthaers has signed, thereby declaring it an original? The work 'Six lettres ouvertes; Avis' (1972) consists of six open letters on stationery from the Musée d'Art Moderne, Section des Figures, Département des Aigles. Each letter has a different date, a picture of an eagle and a text denying any similarity to any other existing museum department.

The theme of the signature recurs in another work: 'Gedicht/Poem/Poème - Change/Exchange/Wechsel' from 1973. The 'poem' is a monotonous list of the letters M.B., the artists signature. Section A consists of three columns divided into subcategories. By adding up the number of signatures in each subcategory and putting the answer under the line, the poem takes on the form of a sum. Section B and C fall under the heading Change/Exchange/Wechsel. Besides the subdivision into three columns, Section B is not divided up any further. In section C, the sum of the sub categories is an amount of money, expressed in a currency. The artwork has been reduced to the addition of number and economic value.

From 1961 onwards, Broodthaers started putting together slide projections. A slide series usually has the function of illustrating a line of reasoning, which is, however, missing in his work. Broodthaers himself described these slide projections as a 'système de lecture' or a 'Photo-film', referring to their narrative. The work 'Ombres chinoises' (1973-74) is composed of 80 slides of images from the art world, comic strips, adventure novels and popular scientific treatises, with drawings of natural phenomena, explosions, comets, volcanic eruptions and solar eclipses. There is also a reproduction of a painting by Magritte with the text 'No photographs allowed'. Many of the images are from the 19th-century schoolbooks. They expose the history of our taxonomy and classification systems. Broodthaers takes them out of their context and rearranges them in a seemingly illogical sequence. The slide projection 'images d'Epinal' (1974) is named after the popular 19th-century series of pictues from the imagerei Pellerin in Epinal, France. To this day 'image d'Epinal' still means 'a stereotypical image' in French. The Pictures are from a period when lithography was up-and-coming, enabling a much wider circulation of images. Here again, Broodthaers plays with concepts of reproduction and original.

The piece 'Sex-film' (1971-72) consists of 23 transparent slides with words, abbreviations, sign and symbols in black, blue and red ink hand-written on them. First of all, the abbreviation 'fig.' utilized mainly in educational and scientific texts to refer to an image, is used by Broodthaers as an autonomous symbol. The image to which it is supposed to refer is absent. Other symbols in the slide projection are the heart and arrow. The arrow as an independent element implies that there is a logical connection between the slides. When combined with the heart, however, a new symbol arises with a different meaning. The exclamation marks give the whole a humorous, or if you will, absurdist, tinge, as do the words 'museum', 'D.M.' (Deutschmark) or 'W.C.' Broodthaers transforms he slide series into separate symbolic systems that manifest themselves as a story with an ambiguous meaning. In this way, he examines how our language systems determine how we see and experience reality.

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