Visual poetry by Mallarmé and Broodthaers

Belgium is not the place where Flemish primitives and Magritte were, but also the place where one of the most important and less famous conceptualist was born and was working. Marcel Broodthaers began from poetry but it did not bring him any money or recognition and someday he took and poured gypsum fifty unsold copies of the latest collection of his poems and turned his work of literary into work of sculpture. It was his first work Pense Bête from which he started his art career.


Broodthaers had slim and grim humor, the ability to expose poetic imagery to intellectual discipline and sensitivity to both avant-garde traditions and to spirit of his time. Those were most emblematic qualities of his works. He continued the ideas of Duchamp and surrealists by systematically undermining the authority of all those seemingly impartial and beneficent institutions – museums, galleries.


But Broodthaers criticized not only the authority of institutions but also the authority of famous authors. For example in 1969 he transformed one of the most significant poem Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard written by Stéphane Mallarmé. Marcel made a book with twenty photolithography based on the one of the earliest examples of visual poetry – the last large work of Mallarmé, the book-poem. Broodthaers said that in his youth he met Magritte who gave him the book.

Marcel Broodthaers 8

Mallarmé was the precursor of surrealist poets because he appreciated the game with clear sound and picture of words on the page and their semantic load. As an artist came from poetry, Broodthaers deleted from the poem not only the lexical meaning but also the sound. In his reprint the picture of the words became an abstract composition made of the black rectangles. This Broodthaers’ gesture brought to a logical end the Mallarmé experiment with language and form and gave an answer the ironic minimalism with its love with form and conceptualism that was looking for tautology.

The Broodthaers’ creation is the symbol of this basic conflict which formed the art of XX century. On the one hand, he was an erudite, esthete and formalist who could not deny the idea of self-sufficient, really beautiful and truthful work of art. But he also did not believe in his own ability to create such an object. And instead of someone persuade, he offered all the possible reasons to doubt that he was an artist and his works were the works of art. He washed hid hands of any responsibility for seeking a resolution of the conflict.


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