Musée d’Art Moderne, Departement des Aigles, by Marcel Broodthaers
Regarding the fiftieth anniversary of its inauguration
In 1963, the revolutionary program of the situationist movement is displayed on canvas by the hand of its more noteworthy proponents: “Dépassement de l’art”, “Réalisation de la philosophie”, “Tous contre le spectacle”, “Abolition du travail aliéné”, “Non a tous les spécialistes du pouvoir/Les conseils ouvriers partout”. Guy Debord synthesizes a political proposal, certainly rooted in the Marxist heritage, in the critique of capitalism, in the fight against a society that he considers to be doomed before the spectacular. The first point is the most interesting in this context.
It should be emphasized that the idea of the breakthrough in art is based on the rejection of the institutionalization paradigm. In other words, the rejection of the principle of museumization. Guy Debord believes that art is barred from life when under the umbrella of an institution. According to him, the breakthrough in art implies overcoming the gap between art and life. Art must be confused with life. And, to achieve that, the artist must rebel against specialization. The target is precisely the specialist, who emerges as a product of the division of labour, an important mechanism of the capitalist system.
Guy Debord is part of the Situationist International and is naturally associated with the ideas of May 68. And so is Marcel Broodthaers. In 1964, he stopped pursuing a literary career and joined the effort of fighting the artistic practice: someone who had been a poet up to that point started to operate as an artist.
Between 1968 and 1972, he installs and reinstalls, always in Europe, his Musée d’Art Moderne, Departement des Aigles. As he explained: “This Museum is a fictitious museum. It plays the role of, on the one hand, a political parody of art shows and, on the other hand, an artistic parody of political events”. The year of the inauguration must be emphasized, as it was profoundly marked by political unrest, student protests and revolutionary actions. The museum is then installed in his own house, claiming right from the beginning the demise of the gap between art and life. It is the questioning of so-called bourgeois categorization, the inherent ideological separation between the public and private sectors. That intervention is a paradigmatic case of subversion of the institutional device and, more specifically, the museological system – the department, the section, the collection or the inventory – and the museological equipment – the plinth, the showcase, the table or the catalogue. Also, as a paradigmatic criticism of the capitalist apparatus, in its demand for a spectacular separation. After all, the artist simultaneously takes the role of director, curator, designer, marketer and even assistant of the exhibition. In fact, the specialization epidemic derives from this thirst for separation, which structures Guy Debord’s society: “Separation is the alpha and the omega of the spectacle.”.
On 27 September 1968, Section XIXe siècle is inaugurated at his house, in Brussels, in a performative act that sets the intervention’s critical tone. Marcel Broodthaers defies the institutional authority through the appropriation of a vast paraphernalia commonly associated with the museum context, such as the box used for the transport of any work of art, always with a typical label on it, informing about the contents or warning about its handling; the vehicle adapted to transport this sort of goods, parked outside the residence, on the date of the inauguration – and, later, on the closing date – of that section; an important selection of French painting of that century, with each work of art displayed through a postcard copy of its original format, fixed to the wall with the banalest tape; or a projector, revealing another painting and some caricature of that time. The inauguration introduced the discussion on the concept of museum, under what would later be known as the “institutional critique”. That discussion is partially seen in the film Une discussion inaugurale, in the same year, with the signature of the artist.
On 27 September 1969, he hangs on the window of Section XIXe siècle the sale of his house and travels to Antwerp, where, during approximately one week, he displays Section XVIIand siècle. Marcel Broodthaers also operates within that logic, but now in a space conceived for exhibitions. A bus is used to carry the audience from the closure to the inauguration event.
In 1970, at the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, he conceives a second version of the first installation, entitled Section XIXe siècle (bis). Promoting the clash between the reproduced and the original paintings, loaned from the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, and showed for the first time in that movie. But the intervention only lasts for two days. Which means that the museum, an institution that defines itself as permanent, is now conceived within the limits of ephemerality.
It is interesting to take a few steps back.
In the summer of 1969, the artist sets the sand of the Le Coq beach as the limit of his own museum, adding a warning to the public: it is forbidden to touch such an important construction. After all, the performative act aims to establish a subversive correspondence between the inevitable submergence of the fictional museum and the imminent liquidation of the real institution. Marcel Broodthaers simultaneously evokes the apparent authority and the extreme frailty of the institutional structure. In fact, he reminds us that the artistic creation is always found in relation to the imaginary line circumscribing the institutional territory. Hence the Section Documentaire.
In 1971, during Art Cologne, he proposes a Section Financière, taking advantage of the catalogue’s cover for the ultimate parody of the art market: “Musée d’Art Moderne à vendre pour cause de faillite”. However, there is no one interested. Hence the ingot. But to cope with bankruptcy, the artist needs the revenue from the sale of this limited edition, with the price of each gold bar corresponding to twice its market value. During this period, he also presents Section Cinéma. Then he screens the movie Le musée et la discussion, deepening the discussion started within the scope of Section XIXe siècle.
In 1972, he goes back to Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, now with Section des Figures. Indeed, the eagle imposes its presence like never before. Evidently, the encyclopedic display enhances the cumulative effect. It should also be noted that the said section refers deliberately to the more traditional cabinet. On the other hand, he owes a lot to Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte, if, for no other reason, because next to each item the artist adds: “Ceci n’est pas un objet d’art”.
During Documenta 5 in Kassel, he officially closes his museum, installing the Section Advertising – near Boîte-en-suitcase of Marcel Duchamp, or Maus Museum of Claes Oldenburg – and Section d’Art Moderne. In the former, he explores the symbolic representation of the eagle, promoting a curious encounter between the artistic and the advertising works, still in line with Section des Figures. In the latter, he closes a small area of the exhibition space, declaring it as private property. Again, the typical distinction between the public and private sectors. At a given time, the artist forfeits the original arrangement, with Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section d’Art Modern becoming the Musée d’Art Ancien, Département des Aigles, Galerie du XXe siècle, and on the floor, that message is replaced by another: Écrire Peindre Copier Figurer Parler Former Rêver Échanger Faire Informer Pouvoir”. Again, the institutional device.
Marcel Broodthaers takes the eagle as a symbol of institutional power. Moreover, there is no reason to deny the mythological, heraldic and propagandistic reference. In any case, he paves the way to the questioning of the institutional structure, understood as a separate reality. Musée d’Art Moderne, Departement des Aigles parodies a long tradition, which presents us with the institutional territory as a concealed place, always worthy of deference. It is the fight against the discourse that leaves on the outside. It is the fight against the discourse that takes the responsibility from us.