Pipe et formes académiques is an iconic work carried out at the height of Marcel Broodthaers's tragically short career. Executed between 1969-1970, it was created in the wake of the student protests that dramatically climaxed on the streets of Paris in 1968. Taking on the form of a didactic school textbook or museum exhibit, Pipe et forms académiques offers a radical institutional critique. It continues the project of Broodthaers's Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des Aigles (1968) that sought to create a 'museum' in the artist's own home, upsetting the authority of the institution and the distinction between public and private.
In Pipe et formes académiques Broodthaers creates through a practice of vacuum folding, a collection of six shapes, including cubes, cylinders, pyramids and two red pipes in some apparently ordered group on either side of a plastic panel. Listed as a set of 'figures' they appear like symbols in some kind of logical puzzle, open to decoding and deciphering. Upon closer inspection however, it becomes apparent that the objects and the work as a whole contains no specific meta-language or meaning. Instead it offers a playful subversion of pedagogic conventions, breaking the verbal link that would ordinarily connect a word to an object. In outlining the shape of a pipe, Broodthaers was explicitly making reference to his compatriot and mentor Ren Magritte whose own work La trahison des images played a similar type of word game, contradicting a visual image 'to the profit of the subject' (P. Hulten & M. Gilissen Broodthaers, Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat. London, Tate Gallery, 1980, p. 15).
Magritte had a profound influence on Broodthaers throughout his career. Indeed it was the desire to explain Magritte's art through the use of objects that encouraged Broodthaers to give up work as a poet to become an artist. Upon meeting his hero for the first time, he was given a copy of Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance) by French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. The poem itself was constructed out of free verse laid out in unusual typeface, and was intended by Magritte as a 'way of explaining his art to the young admirer without explaining it literally' (Ibid). The way that language shaped experience made a great impact on Broodthaers and it was this concern that helped to inform Pipe et forms académiques.