CRVCCentre for Research in Visual Culture

Almost (not) painting: Marcel Broodthaers and other delays of painting

Trent B46
Wednesday 21st February 2024 (16:00-18:00)

Speaker: Andrew Chesher, Chelsea College of Art

In the last 3 years of his career, Marcel Broodthaers produced a noticeably greater number of paintings than in earlier years. His turn to the literal medium of pigment on canvas, however, belies both the hybrid status of these later works and the artist’s repeated references to painting throughout his career. During these last years, 1973-1976, Broodthaers was living in London. Here he no longer had access to the factory in Brussels that had produced his Industrial Poems between 1968 and 1972; however, the artist had spoken of these works, made in embossed plastic using the same process employed to make municipal signage, as sitting at ‘the boundary between the object and the painting’. A similar boundary characterises many of the later ‘paintings’, the production of which was also farmed out to non-art craftsman: the sequence of Peintures litteraires he started in 1972 were made using letterpress at a printers in Brussels; and other paintings, such as the triptych The Ballard of a Star over Reading Gaol (1975), were executed by commercial sign painters.

The relation of impersonal and commercial means of production to the images and, especially, texts in these works can fruitfully be traced back to another dimension in their hybridity, namely the relation between visual art and literature. In particular, considering them in light of Broodthaers’s fascination for the nineteenth century poet Stephane Mallarmé—who took the newspaper and advertisements both as forms of degraded language and, simultaneously, as models for his famous poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard (1897/1914)—helps to illuminate the conjunction in all of these ‘almost (not) paintings’ of cryptic phrases and graphics on the one hand, and material means to manifest them on the other.

Broodthaers’s attitude to the medium could be characterised by a reply he gave in a conversation with Benjamin Buchloh in 1973. Buchloh had organised an exhibition of Broodthaers’s Peintures litteraires in Cologne, at which the artist’s film Analysis of a Painting was screened. To Buchloh’s suggestion that the film ‘deals with the problem of painting, perhaps even in a painterly attitude,’ Broodthaers responded: ‘You have believed to see a painting, but nevertheless you have seen a film’. The artist side-stepped both sides of the modernist debate by consistently alluding within one medium or tradition to another: to poetry in a painting, to painting in a film, to film in a text, etcetera. What his ‘painting’ exemplifies is less a ‘reinvention of the medium’ in Rosalind Krauss’s sense, and more a rerouting or delay between media – witness the alphabets that form the motifs of several Industrial Poems and the later paintings, including The Ballard of a Star, which itself also refers to Oscar Wilde…

I will augment my discussion of Broodthaers with a number of other examples. Backlight will be provided by touching on Marcel Duchamp’s approach to painting in his readymades and The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even; contrast will be supplied by references to works by Broodthaers’s contemporary Alighiero e Boetti, and younger artists of the time influenced by him, Susan Hiller and John Murphy; and retrospective illumination will be provided by a latter-day painter, Paul Sietsema, whose work appears to contain multiple references to the Belgian. In each of these examples, painting continues in surrogate, or as the painting of surrogates, and as the displacement or revision of painterly means and meanings.

Andrew's biography

Andrew Chesher is a Senior Lecturer at Chelsea College of Arts, London. His research focuses on neo-avantgarde and post-conceptual practices with a special emphasis on critical theory and phenomenological perspectives. His recent essays include: ‘Phenomenology After Conceptual Art’ published in Analecta Husserliana (2018), and ‘Desublimating the Gestalt: Towards an Archaeology of Robert Morris’s Anti Form’ in Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft (2021). He is currently working on an edited volume of essays about Marcel Broodthaers’s London years in collaboration with Deborah Schultz.

Centre for Research in Visual Culture

University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts Centre
Nottingham, NG7 2RD