Many of you will be familiar with the artist's work thanks to its inclusion in a travelling exhibition staged by the New York MoMA and Spain's Queen Sofia Museum. At the M HKA, however, the emphasis is on Broodthaers as an Antwerp artist and the role played by the Wide White Space Gallery in his coming to international prominence. Some of the works on display have rarely been seen before.
Enter the exhibition and you have entered a world of surrealist poetry, a device Broodthaers uses to question convention. Words and letters, often in repetitive series, appear projected on screens, in collages incorporating papier maché, sawdust and wood and on posters. Whole texts appear too, often repeated. This is a noisy exhibition: poetry, often single words or even letters, is projected using slide projectors that are running in a continual loop. Elsewhere there is the buzz and whirl of film projectors. Photos too are incorporated into his art.
The first exhibition in which Broodthaers brought words, objects and various forms of printing together in an ensemble was 'The Fox and the Crow' at the Wide White Space Gallery in Antwerp in 1968. Broodthaers staged several important exhibitions at this gallery between 1966 and 1974 that also introduced his work to a wider audience at the Kunstmarkt in Cologne (Germany).
In one of the works up in Antwerp Marcel Broodthaers pays tribute to that other surrealist great, René Magritte. Broodthaers is a quintissentially Belgian artist, witness the mussel pots – the legendary 'grande casseroles de moules' - that return in several different guises. Mussels are a top Belgian delicacy. Here in Antwerp a red pot stands cheek by jowl with egg shell compositions. Egg shells are one of the artist's pet themes, a theme that returns in the form of egg cartons in another collage work. Broodthaers also has a penchant for the cabinet, a device that can be used to display curiosities. One very Belgian curiosity is the femur of a human being, a real one, painted in the colours of the Belgian tricolour.
If words and letters play an important role in Broodthaers's art, the poster too is given pride of place. In 1972 Broodthaers produced a poster advertising the sale of the Modern Art Museum. The museum is up for sale because it has gone bankrupt. Individual items are up for sale too, witness the catalogue. Don't miss the 'Invitation to a Bourgeois Exhibition'. This could be a dig at you!
The animal world too features prominently in the artist's pallet of images. One poster displays the richness of Belgian cattle breeds. Underneath each picture you expect the name of the breed, but you are fooled: under each cow stands the name of a marque of car!
The maritime theme returns with lobsters and crabs, one pair of which can be seen playing a game of cards. There is criticism of the arms industry too, of the horror that war and conflict imposes on its victims, while the people responsible, the arms dealers and potentates, can lean back in their garden furniture and enjoy their leisure time.
'Marcel Broodthaers Soleil Politique runs at the M HKA, Leuvenstraat 32 in Antwerp until 19 January 2020.