Tom McGlynn at the Brooklyn Rail:
Marcel Broodthaers’s career has to be one of the most hermetically abstruse, at least to an American audience, of the 20th century, so it’s a signal event when a museum like MoMA, so vested in the pas de deux of Dada and Surrealism, celebrates one of that tradition’s most prodigious acolytes. Broodthaers’s work stems from the partition-smashing symbolism of both of those movements; he particularly identified with the wry humor of his fellow countryman, René Magritte. While his projects reflect the seriously playful recombination of words, images, and contexts that have come to represent the disinterested impertinence of the European avant-garde stemming from Symbolist poetry and anarchist dissolution, they gel into a singular critique of cultural institutions and the capital (both social and monetary) generated by the empires which support them. This gives his work an added value to today’s audience, caught as we are in an accelerated convergence between art and capital. Rather than simply mugging for his patrons, Broodthaers carefully directs their mug shots.
Broodthaers initiated his public life as a poet. A francophone Belgian, he strongly identified with the poetry and critical writing of Stéphane Mallarmé, whose work pops up regularly in both implicit and explicit ways throughout this dense, but well-chosen show. Like Mallarmé, Broodthaers found symbolic vessels to contain the artist/poet’s wager on the creative reinterpretation of formal meaning. He opposed sanctioned culture with such humble containers of poetic intention as cracked eggshells and steamed-open mussels, which he also posited as molds (the French word for mussels, moules, is a homophone for “molds”).