The Other Marcel

Belgian multihypenate Marcel Broodthaers worked across poetry, sculpture, painting, and film—and his short-lived but astonishing career is finally coming to light in a new exhibition and special little book that shine a very welcome light on the artist's largely under-recognized oeuvre.

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When Marcel Broodthaers decided to shift careers from poet to artist in 1964, at the age of 40, he made the announcement by encasing unsold copies of his books in plaster, creating his very first sculpture. The conceptual artist went on to make paintings and films infused with his love of language; he made sculptures, too, lots of them, using found objects like mussels, eggshells, wine bottles, magazine clippings, and more. Then, in 1968, Broodthaers declared he was no longer an artist, but the director of a new museum Musée d'Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles—a work of art in itself that examined the role of art institutions through publications, films, and objects presented over four years in ephemeral exhibitions across seven European cities. 

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Broodthaers may not be widely known (he only worked as an artist for 12 years, until his early death in 1976), but the way he subverted the meaning that objects, words, and images acquire in what we would now call installations had a prominent impact on 20th-century art. This Sunday, MoMA will open the first New York retrospective of Broodthaers's work and, in addition to an extensive exhibition catalogue, a book that combines his poetry and visual art. Revealing how ideas in his early texts bled into his visual practice, the book brings together two poetry collections published for the first time in English, My Ogre Book (1967) and Midnight (1960), with 80 image projection works called Shadow Theater (1973-4), which can be thought of as a visual poem. The cinematic texts and poetic images, and especially the limited run of 1,000 copies, make this small, beautifully produced book a collector's dream.

For more information on the exhibition, visit moma.org. Marcel Broodthaer: My Ogre Book, Shadow Theatre, Midnight, $40, is available at sigliopress.com

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