dear friends, i’ve got so much to tell you…

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Open Letter, Marcel Broodthaers, 11 October 1968. (Detail of translation published in Marcel Broodthaers Collected Writings).

Researching the open letters of Marcel Broodthaers led me to the recently published trove of Marcel Broodthaers Collected Writings, and a re-reading of Benjamin Buchloh’s “Open Letters, Industrial Poems” (1987), from which the below:

“Broodthaers’s ‘ I, too, wondered if I couldn’t sell something’ seems to travesty a 1912 statement by Guillaume Apollinaire, who declared, on his invention of spatialized poetic language (the calligram): “And I, too, am a painter.” Yet one does not believe that, even in the case of Apollinaire, this proclamation reflects merely an ambition to rival his painter friends whose projects he would soon define in Les peintres cubists, nor that it was generated by what academic fantasies have again and again described as a new strategy to abolish genre boundaries and poetic categories. Rather, it seems that Apollinaire was already attempting to accommodate the fact that the very modes engendered by these conventions of meaning-production were threatened and destroyed by factors outside of poetry and painting, factors which Walter Benjamin described twenty years later: ‘Now the letter and the word which have rested for centuries in the flatbed of the book’s horizontal pages have been wrenched from their position and have been erected on vertical scaffolds in the streets as advertisement.’”

Moi aussi, je me suis demandé…, Marcel Broodthaers, 1964. Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Open Letter, Marcel Broodthaers, 11 October 1968. (Detail of translation published in Marcel Broodthaers Collected Writings).

“already attempting to accommodate” – this is interesting for many reasons. It identifies Apollinaire’s lack of mastery over his own work in relation to social shifts in the use of language, but marks his practice as a site that both passively registers those social shifts and responds to them, even if only through attempts. “accommodation” connotes giving space to, fitting something in,  giving way, but also giving consideration to something.

The Conquest of Space, Atlas for the Use of Artists and the Military, Marcel Broodthaers, 1975.

The open letters of Broodthaers give good consideration. They accommodate various existing modalities of language and convention and institutional paratexts. But their humor and historical discernment produce the distance of a consideration.

In regards to the recently-announced MoMA expansion, perhaps Broodthaers is still having one of the last words.

broodthaers play

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