Self-appointed head of the fictional “Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles” (Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles), Marcel Broodthaers took pride in not only his institutional critique of museums, but also the influence of his language. Broodthaers started his career in Belgium as a poet.  Later in life he announced that he wanted to make something insincere, which naturally led him to working with visual mediums.  In his poetic fashion, and possibly out of spite cultivated from trying to succeed as an artist, after a few years of sculpting and painting he appointed himself the director of his own museum.

Ironically enough, many well known museums, such as the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf and the Palais des Beaux Arts, became home to Broodthaers’ traveling museum.  These massive names helped Broodthaers’ museum prove its point that institutions affect the production and consumption of art.  When looking at the “Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles” we begin to wonder where the museum starts.  Broodthaers tells us that it starts not at the art that is to be put in it, but rather in the idea of creating the institution itself.  In fact, his museum has no works of his own in it; rather there are empty crates, blueprints, and postcards.  It is much more a museum for the thinker; when walking through, one can’t help but wonder what makes a museum. Is it the art? Or does the museum deem the art as worth viewing?

After the “Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles” took Europe by storm, Broothaers decided to begin creating his own works again. He reintroduces the idea of visual language as an art, and his poetic notions hit us in the gut upon entering the final two rooms of the exhibition: Broodthaers’ “Décor.” Broodthaers poetically places visual symbols of fear and violence next to items of beauty, humor, and protection.  The viewer is drawn in by intrigue, almost pushed back out of the rooms from fear, and finally comforted by the beauty and our recognition of the harmless.

The installation itself was out of the ordinary for the MoMA, perhaps a perk of inviting the Broodthaers estate in Brussels to have a bit of a say in the curation of the exhibition.  The sixth floor of the MoMA, rather than grandly displaying any portraits of Broodthaers as expected, was filled with palms and a projection: “Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective.” The first room, painted black, is an introduction to his poetry from when he was young.  The only sound is a projector fluttering through film, giving the room the same sense of heaviness as the color of the walls.  Once we exit the darkness of the first room we are knocked back by four wall sculptures made of oysters opposite of us.

The main section of the show is dedicated to the “Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles” and is massive.  An open room holds two diagonal walls separating the introduction of Broodthaers’ museum from the really meaty part of it.  A dark box of a room sits to the left.  Inside, two slide projectors are showing images of sculptures and illustrations of eagles.  The darkness is infuriating as viewing the walls of the box is nearly impossible; once we are finally able to make out what is hanging, we see—to our dismay—only more images of eagles on buildings and in drawings. Exiting the room dedicated to the museum we see a gold ornate mirror with the final eagle of the show on top.  When standing in front of the mirror the viewers see themselves with the reflection of Broothaers’ final works behind them, a melancholic moment as I realized the show was coming to an end.  In the final section of the show, Broodthaers reverts to his old ways as an artist using poetic means to make his point.  Finally we exit, leaving behind his “Décor,” and re-enter the palm-filled, hotel lobby resembling room we entered through.

Broodthaers made work much like poetry; he could put it out into the world and the viewer can absorb and digest it into a meaning.  However, naturally, there has to be installation guidelines to make meaningful, successful work.  So, the curation of this show was key and luckily was successful in translating Broothaers’ thoughts.

The stand-out of the show, clearly, was meant to be and was the “Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles.” The accurate recreation made this the most successful work in the show. Broodthaers’ thoughtfulness and wit carried through, even without his hand playing with the curation.  The irony of the actual Museum of Modern Art holding the “Musée d’Art Moderne” inside of it was the perfect hypocrisy to drive the concepts of institutionalized art and the politics of an artwork’s importance based off of representation to a level that would have made Broodthaers himself chuckle.

The final rooms that held “Decor” stand out simply with the refreshing color of the red carpet.  But the rooms held my attention long enough to grow afraid of the large stuffed anaconda and then to be reassured by the revolver placed in front of it. The second of the two rooms holding Broodthaers’ “Decor” is more shocking than any of the other work in the exhibition.  In this room there is a round table with an umbrella and four chairs, and on top of the table is a puzzle.  There are two shelves on the wall behind the table; they are filled with guns of all sorts and grenades. The friendly looking scene decomposes under the weight of the militant guns lining the wall behind it.  Similar to the way the first room immediately scares then reassures us, the second room comforts the viewers only to stun them in order to hold their interest. Broodthaers throws us for an internally poetic loop of our recognition and acceptance of fear.

Broothaers’ critique of the museum is one that points directly at the MoMA and yet seems to flourish under its roof due to the hypocrisy of it.  Broothaers himself would have put it there, if not to strengthen his concept then to capitalize on the poetic notion of falling from within.


Allison Schaller is a junior majoring in Photography. She is interested in writing, with a focus on poetic prose as well as critical essays.