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Marcel Broodthaers

Industrial Poems, Open Letters

10 09 2021 09 01 2022

“These plaques are fabricated like waffles, you know”, said Marcel Broodthaers of the plastic plaques he produced between 1968 and 1972, and which continued his work around the effects of publicity and mass media on language and visual communication.

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In his poems, Marcel Broodthaers’s (1924-1976) suggestive, freely associative language contrasts starkly with the biased language of marketing or the hard data of electronic communication being introduced at the time. The repetitive messages in standardised language are questioned in these multiples, which he also entitled ‘Industrial Poems’. Taking the popular aspects of plastic street signs, he composed enigmatic visual poems with signals, images, letters, words or punctuation, eluding direct and universal meaning. Made industrially with a technique of vacuum formed moulds, the soft contours of the characters and graphics make the printed language palpable, words and pictograms moulded into containers for ideas. He defined these works as “treating the image as word and the word as image”, a criticism of conceptual art’s utilitarian use as information of language, favouring instead its poetic dimension.

“These plaques are fabricated like waffles, you know”

Marcel Broodthaers, MB, 10.000 Fr Reward, 1974

In an unprecedented exhibition, elaborated in close collaboration with the Succession Marcel Broodthaers, WIELS presents the entire series of 36 main motifs of the plaques by Broodthaers, while also highlighting further unknown versions and variations, to reveal the artist’s idiosyncratic take on seriality and the reproducible, rare artwork and image. The exhibition also features unique prototypes, as well as a large group of drawings or preparatory sketches for the plaques, all in relation to a selection of ‘Open Letters’ by the artist. These were distributed in the public arena as pamphlets by Broodthaers, while he was founding and developing the Musée d’art moderne, Département des Aigles, a personal museum of which he was the artist, director, guard and solitary visitor. It ran from 1968 to 1972, simultaneous to the production of the plastic plaques, some of which were used by the artist as publicity for his Musée.

The exhibition brings together some 120 plaques, 70 drawings and documents, with prototypes and a selection of 14 'Open Letters'. A catalogue raisonné listing all the plaques, variations or prototypes is edited by Charlotte Friling, including texts by Maria Gilissen Broodthaers, Manuel Borja-Villel and Dirk Snauwaert (400 pp, 500 illustrations).

Curated by Charlotte Friling and Dirk Snauwaert
In close collaboration with Maria Gilissen Broodthaers and the Succession Marcel Broodthaers
and in collaboration with Marie-Puck Broodthaers

Display for the ‘Open Letters’ by Richard Venlet

With support of