‘I have just followed the footprints left in the artistic sands by René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp. Faithfully in spite of the winds that I blow. I, too, am an apostle of silence’ (M. Broodthaers, quoted in Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1989, p. 32)
In Marcel Broodthaers’ Untitled, we are presented with a work of art seemingly caught in the moment of its creation: paint rollers cover two sponges with plaster, creating a rich white impasto texture on top of which a paint brush, dipped in red paint, and a plastic sphere are placed. Exhibited at Broodthaers’ first solo exhibition at the Galerie Saint Laurent in Brussels in 1964, Untitled is one of the artist’s earliest works and marks the beginnings of a groundbreaking and multi-faceted artistic practice that within a span of only twelve years would irrevocably change the field of post-war and contemporary art. As Broodthaers wrote in his faux-naif statement on the invitation card for this exhibition, ‘The idea of inventing something insincere crossed my mind and I set to work at once. At the end of three months I showed what I’d done to Ph. Edouard Toussaint, the owner of the Galerie Saint Laurent. ‘But this is art’, he said, ‘and I will gladly show it all’’ (M. Broodthaers, quoted in Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1980, p. 13).
Untitled is a striking assemblage that seemingly epitomizes an abstract work of art par excellence: whilst belying Broodthaers’ interest in George Segal’s use of plaster and the white Achromes of his friend Piero Manzoni, this work is also filled with tongue-in-cheek references to the geometric forms and techniques of Minimalism. A witty, enigmatic and subversive meditation on the tools and traditions of painting, Untitled brilliantly exemplifies the artist’s enduring concern with the notions of meaning, authorship and originality. As such, it importantly sets the tone for such ensuing works as the seminal Musée d’Art Moderne – Département des Aigles, 1968 – 1972, a fictional art museum that was posthumously exhibited at the Monnaie de Paris this year.
It was with works such as the present one that Broodthaers – who had previously worked as a Bohemian poet and writer associated with Belgian Surrealism – first embarked on his career as a visual artist. ‘I have just followed the footprints left in the artistic sands by René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp’, Broodthaers wrote, ‘Faithfully in spite of the winds that I blow. I, too, am an apostle of silence’. (M. Broodthaers, quoted in Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1989, p. 32). Taking Magritte’s word-image works and Marcel Duchamp’s readymades into new, conceptual pastures, Broodthaers forged his own distinctive path as a visual artist, poet, filmmaker, and photographer – creating an impressive range of films, slide projections, assemblages of found objects and installations with a highly literate, critical and lyrical approach and deadpan humour. Though remaining at the fringes of the art world during his lifetime, Broodthaers has since come to be recognized as one of the most influential artists of the last century. His continued legacy and relevance demonstrates itself in his current, posthumous inclusion in the 56th Venice Biennale under Okwui Enwezor’s curatorial eye, and in the upcoming retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2016.