This intimate and gorgeously produced book pairs Belgian artist-poet Marcel Broodthaers’s earliest collections of poetry My Ogre Book (1957) and Midnight (1960)—both previously unpublished in English—with an eighty-image projection work Shadow Theater (1973-74) made toward the end of his too brief life. Together these works reveal a dizzyingly prodigious interplay between the images and texts—particularly illuminating Broodthaers’s use of the oblique and dark fairytale framework within (and against) which he plays with reflections and reproductions, inversions and fictions, body and shadow, decor and violence.
My Ogre Book (Mon livre d’ogre) and Midnight (Minuit) served as an archetypal wellspring for Broodthaers’s later visual works: he continuously drew from their source, recycled and reworked them into new schemata in his installations, films, sculptures and paintings. Both are wildly cinematic books that perform like a fictional theater set (or museum) for a dark fable of which we are only dimly aware. In this vein Shadow Theater (Ombres chinoises), published in full for the first time here, creates a fantastical poetic landscape of semblance and sleights of hand. The silhouettes, isolated cartoon frames, and appropriated illustrations embody an artificial and topical cosmogony—images of images, whose resemblance to “the real” is twice removed and even caricatured. The three works are published together to provide the reader with an unprecedented opportunity to read Broodthaers in both language and image.
Born in Brussels, Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976) is the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 11 – May 15, 2016. Embracing poetry, fiction, art, and cinema, Broodthaers’s highly interdiscplinary practice was deeply innovative in its conceptual scope and inimitable concatenations of child-like play and institutional critique, deadpan humor and investigation into the nature of meaning (and meaninglessness). Influenced by Renee Magritte, Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire, Broodthaers’s visual work, made in the 1960s and 70s, now wields its own extraordinary influence on contemporary conceptual art and writing. From books of poetry transformed into unreadable objects, to sculptures made of eggshells and mussels, to his dense and sprawling Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Broodthaers’s work persists in its challenge and relevancy.