In 1964, the 40-year-old Marcel Broodthaers entered the world of art with his first solo exhibition. Until the early 1960s, he was a poet and photographer with ventures in filmmaking, journalism, and dealing books—but he had not yet exhibited visual art. He heralded his arrival on the art scene with an invitation printed in block lettering that declared: “I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life.” In this sideways shift, Broodthaers launched his own career with the same wit and skepticism that would characterize his approach to art.
Despite—or perhaps because of—this unorthodox beginning, Broodthaers’s 12-year artistic period has left a lasting mark on contemporary art. Broodthaers is, for many artists today, a beloved forefather. He has multiple legacies: as a pioneering critic of the art establishment, as an early creator of large-scale displays, and as a poet-artist who incorporated linguistic play into his work, to name a few.
At MoMA next Wednesday, May 4, at 7:00 p.m., artists Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Rodney Graham will discuss the ways in which they consider Broodthaers within their own work. They will be joined in conversation by Cathleen Chaffee, Broodthaers scholar and Senior Curator at the Albright-Knox Gallery, and Christophe Cherix, The Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints at MoMA and co-curator of the museum’s current Broodthaers retrospective. This dialogue will be an opportunity for visitors to consider the multiplicity of responses to the history of art.
Born in Strasbourg, France, Gonzalez-Foerster works in a variety of media—notably, like Broodthaers, she has extensively used filmmaking as a mode of artistic production, and often approaches exhibitions as works of art. With his décors, Broodthaers transplanted the logic of the movie set to the art world, filling galleries with props and furniture in order to reconfigure the space.
Gonzalez-Foerster, too, often imagines new spaces: crowding a room with a forest of columns too closely packed to serve a structural purpose, scattering chairs across a courtyard, or providing reading material for visitors by stacking books on the floor. Her current retrospective at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, Germany, features a sanctuary for the year 2066, filled with bunkbeds and reproductions of works of art by Claes Oldenburg, Henry Moore, and others.
Graham, who is Vancouver-based, also works across media, but echoes of Broodthaers can be seen in his explorations of language, typography, and the format of the book. Broodthaers devised a series of works in tribute to the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. He blocked out the text of the poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard, at once making the text illegible and turning it into a graphic work. In a related piece, Broodthaers inscribed text from the poem in white chalk across three shirts and hung them from hangers on the wall.
Graham likewise incorporates Mallarmé into his art. In White Shirt (for Mallarmé) Spring 1993, he displays a printed poem in a cardboard box with a neatly folded shirt. The poem becomes packaged as a commodity. In other works Graham manipulates books by adding, subtracting, appropriating, and rearranging elements. This engagement with the written word recalls Broodthaers, whose interest in poetry reverberates through his work. In May, at Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto, Canada, Graham will exhibit a series of photographs in which he casts himself in various roles, from a camera shop proprietor to an imaginary 1960s “pipe cleaner artist”—a fiction not far removed from Broodthaers’s Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles.
Over the coming weeks, there will be additional opportunities to interact with the work of Broodthaers beyond seeing the exhibition Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective, which closes on May 15. On Monday, May 2, at 7:00 p.m., highlights from Broodthaers’s film practice will screen at MoMA, with commentary by film scholar Bruce Jenkins and Christophe Cherix. The following Monday, May 9, at 7:00 p.m., poets will gather in the galleries to read poetry by Broodthaers and to share selections from their own work in response.