Friday, May 6, 2016

Marcel Broodthaers | Pense-Bête

Marcel Broodthaers
Brussels, Belgium: Self-published, 1963-1964.
32 pp., 27.5 x 21.5 cm., softcover
Edition size unknown

In 1964 Marcel Broodthaers was middle-aged and broke. His fourth (and final) book of poetry was self-financed and he was supporting himself as a bookseller and photojournalist.

“I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life,” he wrote that year, in the  promotional brochure for his first ever art exhibition, at galerie Saint-Laurent in Brussels. “For some time I had been no good at anything. I am forty years old…Finally the idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway.”

One of the most celebrated works in the exhibition (and which many cite as his first artwork ever) shares it's name with Pense-Bête, and indeed it's content. Fifty copies of the book ("the last two parcels") were encased in plaster as a sculpture, marking his move from poet to artist.

“You cannot read the book without destroying its sculptural aspect,” he later remarked, “…no one had any curiosity about the text; ignorant of whether it was the burial of prose or of a poetry, of sadness or pleasure.”

The original book is one of the artist's least available titles. The copy in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (here) does not indicate the edition size, nor does the bibliography in the D.A.P. monograph Marcel Broodthaers (2013). However, I believe there were 100 copies produced. With fifty of those buried in plaster and many more lost to time, the title is exceedingly rare.

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