Marcel Broodthaers - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Marcel Broodthaers, 'Moules', Lot 37

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Van Den Bosch, Belgium
    Betty Barman, Brussels
    Sotheby's, London, 25 May 1989, lot 390
    Willy D'Huysser Gallery, Brussels
    Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels
    Ronny Van De Velde, Antwerp
    Private Collection, Belgium

  • Exhibited

    Brussels, Galerie Cogeime, MEC Art contemporain, October 1967
    Palais des Beaux-Arts à Bruxelles, Catalogue-Catalogus, 27 September - 3 November 1974
    Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Marcel Broodthaers, October 1990 (illustrated, p. 134)
    Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, Marcel Broodthaers, November 1990 - January 1991
    Tokyo, Watari, Museum of Contemporary Art, Irony by Vision, 29 May - 15 September 1991, p. 65 (illustrated)
    New York, Museum of Modern Art; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Marcel Broodthaers. A Retrospective, 14 February 2016 - 11 June 2017, p. 307 and 341 (illustrated, p. 306)

  • Literature

    Freddy de Vree, Marcel Broodthaers: Oeuvres 1963-1975, Brussels, 1990, (illustrated, p. 134)
    Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat., Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris; Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 1991-92 (Palais des Beaux-Arts à Bruxelles exhibition illustrated, p. 245)

    We are grateful for Marie-Puck Broodthaers’ and Maria Gilissen’s assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Mussel /This clever thing has avoided society’s mould. / She’s cast herself in her very own. / Other look alikes share with her the anti-sea. / She’s perfect. – Marcel Broodthaers

    A celebration of one of Marcel Broodthaers’ most important motifs, Moules, 1967, presents an inky black casserole brimming with mussel shells on a blank canvas, the lid of the pan spelling out ‘Moules’, or ‘Mussels’ in French. At once formally straightforward and conceptually layered, the photographic work epitomises Broodthaers’ eccentric universe and irreverential practice, informed by his longstanding background in poetry. ‘I have been using since 1967 photo-canvases, films, slides, to establish the relationships between the object and the image of that object, and also those that exist between the sign and the meaning of a particular object: writing’, the artist said (Marcel Broodthaers, quoted in Michael Compton, 'In Praise of the Subject', Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1989, p. 40). It is thus no coincidence that the work’s subject matter should be polysemic in French: ‘moules’ signifying not only ‘mussels’ but also ‘moulds’ – a nod to the animal’s capacity to make its own shell (and thus, so-to-speak, its own mould). Signifying the importance of mussels within Broodthaers’ visual lexicon, the symbol has appeared time and again in the artist’s work, notably in key formulations housed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Tate, London.

    Included in the major monographic show that further cemented Broodthaers’ status within the art world – Marcel Broodthaers, travelling from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf from 2016 to 2017 – Moules had already been exhibited extensively and outside of the continent, notably on the occasion of the exhibition Irony by Vision, taking place in Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art, in 1991, and curated by Jan Hoet.

    Working as a writer and poet until the age of 40, Broodthaers began making objects in 1964, developing a visual repertoire spanning surrealism, conceptualism, and the deadpan aesthetic of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. Sourced from his favourite restaurant, the mussels became a signature material and subject for his work in the last decade of his life – a talismanic presence buttressed by sister symbols such as eggshells, eagles, and garden tools. These, together, represented the absurdist twist with which Broodthaers commented on life, the ordinary nothings that salvaged him from a vocational disappointment. Operating as both a creator and a commentator, Broodthaers slightly altered the Belgian dish’s usual presentation in the present work, instead likening it to an erect column. The saucer in the photographic canvas, as a result, rises like an amateurish Tower of Babel, demonstrating how ‘The bursting out of the mussels from the casserole does not follow the laws of boiling’, but instead ‘follows the laws of artifice and results in the construction of an abstract form’ (Marcel Broodthaers, quoted in Sigrid Adriaenssens, ‘Belgian Shell Art and Architecture: Marcel Broodthaers and Andre Paduart’, Form Finding Lab, 22 March 2017, online). Sitting ‘on the edge of things, where the world of visual arts and the world of poetry might eventually, I wouldn’t say meet, but at the very frontier where they part’, Moules is an apt representation of Broodthaers’ desire to enact a type of hybrid production (Marcel Broodthaers, Collected Writings, Belgium, 1974, p. 410).

    Channelling an irreverential spirit that finds its foundations in a number of gestures enacted by Broodthaers’ predecessors, the artist stated that ‘I have just followed the footprints left in the artistic sands by René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp… Faithfully in spite of the winds that blow’ (Marcel Broodthaers, quoted in Marcel Broodthaers, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1989, p. 32). In reference to his mussels specifically, Broodthaers contended, ‘A mussel hides a mould and vice versa. Magritte’s pipe is the mould of smoke’ (Marcel Broodthaers, quoted in Deborah Schultz, Marcel Broodthaers: Strategy and Dialogue, Bern, 2007, p. 115). Broodthaers’ rapport with words and images indeed echoed Magritte’s experimentation with the two realms – exploring the grounds where they become treacherous and those where they strangely hit the perfect spot. The artist’s admiration for his surrealist forebear only vivified when he met him in 1945; he subsequently cultivated a continuous dialogue with him, devised in both real and fictitious terms, as on the occasion of their ‘imaginary interview’ published in the Journal des arts plastiques in 1967.

    Exploring a wide-ranging variety of literary, social and historical themes across his twelve-year artistic career, Broodthaers fashioned an oeuvre that brims with whimsical humour and semiotic puzzles, bolstered by strategies of repetition and self-deprecation. Celebrated on the occasion of numerous institutional shows, and most recently in the artist’s major retrospective Soleil Politique at the Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp (October 2019 - January 2020), Broodthaers’ legacy continues to resonate today in the canon of contemporary art.



signed, titled and dated 'Moules, 1967 M. Broodthaers' on the overlap
photographic canvas
100.2 x 80.2 cm (39 1/2 x 31 5/8 in.)
Executed in 1967.

£150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £168,750

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020