My interest in Marcel Broodthaers dates back to my 1977 encounter with his Un Jardin d'Hiver, installed posthumously at the Art Institute of Chicago in James Speyer and Anne Rorimer's exhibition "Europe in the Seventies: aspects of recent art." The survey included several artists I was well acquainted with, having worked with them in the design of the Anti-Object Art issue of TriQuarterly (#32) a few years earlier. I was hired as a freelancer to do the design and key line work for that issue, in the process exchanging notes and ink samples with Daniel Buren, Robert Barry, Agnes Denes, and Adrian Piper, among others. I received an efficient education in Conceptual Art, and also saw the value of publishing a little magazine devoted to works like these, hence the germ of the idea that became WhiteWalls. That said, I was unaware of Broodthaers until my visit to "Europe in the Seventies."
I walked into gallery 249 and was immediately struck by the circle of potted palms and old-fashioned folding chairs in the center of the room. In 1977, such décor was uncommon in art museums. The attitude of a slightly down-at-the-heels hotel lobby pervaded the space, as did, momentarily, the framed reproductions of birds lining the walls above several wooden library vitrines. As I approached, however, I suddenly realized that many of the avian species on the wall were now extinct, and that the documents in the vitrines were apparently old typesetters' manuals, showing alphabets of fonts now as figuratively dead as were the birds on view above them. I'd worked for several years as a graphic designer to save the money for graduate school at the University of Chicago, and my background had unexpectedly prepared me to understand the association Broodthaers was making in Jardin d'Hiver.
I wheeled around to see what other poetic marvels were part of this display and saw myself on the screen of the black and white console television set in the nearest corner, with a camera mounted on top. I was performing the role of "museum visitor," and was ecstatic over this momentary celebrity. I went into the museum that day as an artist of one kind and left it as another.
Over the years I have returned to considerations of Broodthaers in a variety of forms, including several essays or exhibit reviews discussing his work, and artworks of mine, including, notably, the edition of altered exhibition catalogues from Marge Goldwater's 1987 retrospective of the artist at the Walker Art Center, Broodthaers' first in the United States. In summer 1990 I altered eleven copies of the catalogue after Pae White, my studio assistant at that time, had painted over all of their pages with white gesso. I saved the excised material from the catalogues and bound eleven wedges of torn pages to use in a sculpture, North Sea (for M.B.) that lined the wedges of torn pages along a steel plane jutting out from the wall. Atop the eleven "waves" I placed a couple of nineteenth-century black bronze bookends cast in the shape of sailing ships. The gessoed pages weren't completely coated, so little openings of text and/or images were visible here and there. I'd chosen the bookends as a reference to Broodthaers's great Petersburg Press artists' book, A Voyage on the North Sea. Attached are a few pics.