Marcel Broodthaers
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WIELS - Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354, 1190 Brussels

Marcel Broodthaers

Industrial Poems, Open Letters


This unprecedented exhibition brings together two related groups of works by Marcel Broodthaers:

his “industrial poems” (or plastic plaques)
and his Open letters.

Both were thought of as editions and were instrumental in the shift in understanding of what an artwork can be, and in the questioning of institutional authority over art.
The years 1968 to 1972 saw large protest movements calling for societal transformation and anti-conformist liberation. The claim for basic democracy at the centre of the May ‘68 student revolts saw the black flag prevail over the red flag. Simultaneously, the unlimited reproduction of multiples – reproducible artworks that undermine the notion of the original and thus of privilege – sought to grant the masses access to culture. Although Broodthaers’s plaques are multiples, they are nonetheless limited editions of seven copies each and reveal a certain scepticism and irreverence towards the ideals of his time.

Reforming the institutions from the inside was a slogan that Broodthaers took to its conclusion by creating a personal museum in his house/studio: the Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles.
He developed some 12 Sections in all, most of which he promoted by the edition of a plastic plaque. This solitary action – in which he acted as director, artist, guard and visitor – was preceded and accompanied by Open letters, pamphlets of sorts, in which he hints at discussions that dominate current affairs, in art and politics: the commodification by the market, ideological polarization and manipulative rhetoric. Made before his first Open letter of June ‘68, the plaques Academie and Téléphone already question the standardized, elementary forms of academia and industry by contrasting them with associative and sensorial words, as the continuation of his earlier poetry writing.