Known for his humor and wit, Marcel Broodthaers began his career as poet, albeit an unsuccessful one. After two decades of poverty, Broodthaers decided to become an artist in 1963 seemingly for the purpose of making money. One of his first sculptures was to set 50 volumes of his book of poems, called Pense-Bete, in plaster. The work was symbolic because the volumes were unsold indicating his lack of success as a poet.
Though he spent the last part of his life in Germany and London, Broodthaers was Belgian by birth. As a frustrated poet, words still managed to play a large role in his art. The brochure for his first exhibit displayed an intro which included the phrase, “…the idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway.” In this brochure, Broodthaers implies with cynicism that his art to some degree had a lesser importance than that of his poetry, or at least that it was a means to an end.
In addition to sculptures, Broodthaers produced over 50 short films and he dabbled in photography. Broodthaers early sculptures often consisted of two materials: mussel shells and egg shells. It was in this way that Broodthaers is thought of as a Surrealist but others suggest that the shells of both the mussels and the eggs were an extension of his familiarity with poverty and hunger. In the latter portion of his career, his sculptures became larger and challenged the notion of art and an art exhibit. The work La Salle Blanche consists of a life-size replica of his Brussels apartment covered in terms associated with art making. Some of the words were ordinary art terms, like oil, canvas and perspective, while others were an indication of his cynicism and wit, examples of these are rascal, thief, maggot and privilege.
Broodthaers was both artist and curator for what he referred to as the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles. This was his own traveling museum that for four years changed many times as it traveled. The installation was Broodthaers’ best-known work of the many different variations, the most well-known, referred to as Section des Figures: The Eagle from the Oligocene to the Present, featured hundreds of borrowed objects in the shape of an eagle or displaying an eagle. True to form, each of the items were marked with the phrase “this is not a work of art.” The final version of the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles displayed hundreds of eagle-themed images and figurines.
Broodthaers died early at the age of 52 on the same day of his birth, January 28th. His untimely death was brought about by liver disease. Due to Broodthaers starting his creative career as a poet, he was only an artist for 12 years. The work that he completed of his 12 years has been displayed all over the world in Los Angeles, Paris, Brussels and New York City. Broodthaers’ films have also been displayed as exhibits themselves.