Magazine article Art Monthly

Marcel Broodthaers

Magazine article Art Monthly

Marcel Broodthaers

Article excerpt

Marcel Broodthaers Milton Keynes Gallery January 26 to March 30

This is the largest UK show of work by Marcel Broodthaers since the Tate Gallery retrospective in 1980. Despite this lack of public visibility, Broodthaers's work is well known and much liked among critics, curators and collectors as well as artists. His significance is connected with an interest in Conceptual Art, and with a questioning of definitions and debates concerning the status of art. The aesthetic of the works is intriguing, combining clear, recognisable images and objects with an elusiveness of meaning.

The exhibition includes works in a wide range of media from throughout his career, from books, prints, editions and slide projections to drawings, objects, paint and photographic works on canvas, plastic plaques and installations. It fills three rooms of the gallery, with the artist's signature potted palms providing an entrance for the visitor. Only a few black and white photographs refer to the artist's best-known project, the Musee d'Art Moderne, Departement des Aigles, 1968-72, leaving room to focus attention on other areas of his practice.

Many of the items are from private collections and it is exciting to see them at first hand. A couple of works stand out, because of either their significance in the artist's career or their aesthetic qualities. Pense-Bete, 1964, is often cited as a turning point in Broodthaers's life, from being a (relatively obscure) poet to a (rather successful) artist. However, in many senses he continued as a poet while the visual elements of his books of poetry were always highly considered. In this work he set in plaster the 50 remaining unsold copies of his last edition of poetry of the same title, half still in their wrapping paper. In contrast to the crisp appearance of the books, the base is rather messy with the plaster apparently built up quickly by hand over a ball made of plastic, a material redolent of popular culture. The books could still be lifted off the base and read (although not in the current display), but by doing so the integrity of the work would be destroyed. Pense-Bete means 'memory aide', as when tying a knot in a handkerchief or a string around a finger, and trans lates literally as 'Think Beast' or 'Think Stupid'. Thus the object operates on a number of levels, combining word and image, object and poetry, humour and the process of making.

One of the most visually striking pieces on display is Tapis de Sable, 1974. Produced ten years after Pense-Bete, the work comprises a potted palm sited in the centre of a carpet of pink sand around the edge of which the letters of the alphabet have been stencilled in dark brown sand. …

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