Marcel Broodthaers (Brussels, 1924 - Cologne, 1976) is a key figure of contemporary art, and a reference point and driving force in many current discourses and practices. Following his initial work as a poet, journalist and photographer, in 1964 Broodthaers decided to become a visual artist, and from that moment on concerns with providing a response to the basic questions posed by visual arts can be discerned as he interrogated the idea of representation and the production of meaning through the use of existing knowledge systems. In this round-table discussion Christophe Cherix, Jean-François Chevrier, Dirk Snauwaert and Manuel Borja-Villel will debate the different readings around the founder of the fictional museum.
Regarded as one of the originators of institutional critique, Broodthaers’ work questions the art institution whilst acknowledging his and other artists’ dependence on the circular axiom that presents the art museum as the institution containing all art, and art as all that which is contained in this same museum. The fictional institution he founded in 1968, the Musée d’Art Moderne. Département des Aigles (Musem of Modern Art. Department of Eagles, 1968–1972), which closed upon gaining institutional recognition at Documenta 5 in Kassel in 1972, is conceived as an antidote to this inescapable axiom.
Where does Marcel Broodthaers stand today? His sceptical view of the empirical pragmatism of Minimalism and the uncritical celebrations of the society of the spectacle that were characteristic of Pop distanced him from the art movements of his time. Thus, Broodthaers, just like another of his Décor pieces – his historicist scenography – appears tied to an anachronistic position, banished from his present yet still a present-day protagonist, whereby numerous artistic and institutional practices appear to be epigones of his work.
This round-table discussion brings together museum directors and curators with broad knowledge of and specialisation in the Belgian artist and his exhibition approach, in addition to art historians who have questioned the frameworks of modern art, placing particular emphasis on the hermeticism and pursuit of failure as the horizon belonging to the creator of Jardin d’Hiver (Winter Garden, 1974).
Christophe Cherix has been chief curator of Drawings and Prints at MoMa since 2013. Between 2010 and 2013 he was chief curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at the same museum. He was also the curator of the Cabinet des Estampes en el Musées d’art et d’histoire in Geneva. Cherix is the co-curator of Marcel Broodthaers. A Retrospective, and his curatorial work includes In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960–1976 (MoMA, 2009) and Fluxus Preview: Selections from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift (with Jon Hendricks, MoMA, 2009).
Jean-François Chevrier is an art historian and has worked as a professor at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris since 1988. He has curated a wide array of exhibitions, including Art and Utopia. Restricted Action (MACBA, 2004), a re-reading of modern art through Mallarmé and Broodthaers. His recent works have focused on the relationship between literature and contemporary art, for instance the book L’hallucination artistique de William Blake à Sigmar Polke (L´Arachneen, Paris, 2012) and the exhibition Biographical Forms (Museo Reina Sofía, 2013).
Dirk Snauwaert has been the director of WIELS. Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, since 2005. He has also been co-director of Kunstverein Munich, and the Institut d’art contemporain Villeurbanne/Rhône Alpes. Furthermore, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the analysis of the museum conceived by Broodthaers, an artist on which he continues to focus his work.
Manuel Borja-Villel is the director of Museo Reina Sofía and co-curator of the exhibition Marcel Broodthaers. A Retrospective. He was also previously the director of Fundació Antoni Tàpies and MACBA (both in Barcelona), institutions which have also explored the artistic practice of Marcel Broodthaers.