Having worked as an impoverished poet for many years, Broodthaers began to make visual art in 1964, announcing rather provocatively, "I, too, wondered if I couldn't sell something and succeed in life. . . . The idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work at once." Broodthaers often used found or discarded materials, favoring eggshells, which are "without content other than the air." Using antique-looking furniture and organic materials, Broodthaers critiqued museum display and avoided modern products. In 1968, he created his own museum—called _Museum of Modern Art_—in his apartment, complete with labels and a catalogue.
Gallery label from 2007.
Explaining his beginnings in art, Broodthaers once wrote, "The idea of inventing something insincere . . . crossed my mind and I set to work at once." Anyone upset to find a cabinet of eggshells presented as art might take this to mean that the work is a joke. But there is another possibility: Broodthaers is warning us not to take him at face value, but to look for hidden meanings.
White Cabinet and White Table actually does have aesthetic ancestors, in Marcel Duchamp's Readymade objects and in the surprises of Surrealism. It also reflects the concern with everyday reality in the Pop and neo-realism of Broodthaers's own time. But Broodthaers wanted to avoid glamorizing modern products, and eggshells have nothing uniquely contemporary about them. They interested Broodthaers, rather, as empty containers—containers "without content other than the air."
There are other containers in White Cabinet and White Table: the cabinet and table themselves, both stuffed with content, but an apparently empty or meaningless one. If the table stands on the floor like a sculpture's pedestal while the closet hangs on the wall like a painting's frame (Broodthaers described himself as "painting with eggs"), then the work subtly analyzes art itself: how does art contain meaning for its viewers? Or has it been drained of meaning, like an eggshell minus its egg?
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 263.