Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective

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Marcel Broodthaers. Untitled (General with Cigar). 1970 6610

Found oil painting and cigar, 15 3/4 x 11 13/16 x 2 3/4" (40 x 30 x 7 cm). Partial gift of the Daled Collection and partial purchase through the generosity of Maja Oeri and Hans Bodenmann, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Agnes Gund, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, and Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley

Francesca: Broodthaers extended his critique of authority beyond the museum, considering other emblems of power, such as the military.

Broodthaers, Christophe Cherix: An old portrait of a general that I picked up in some flea market. I made a little hole in the general's pinched mouth, so as to insert a cigar butt. In this object portrait, there is a fortunate tonal harmony. The paint is brown, sort of pissy, and so is the cigar butt. Not just any cigar would suit any general's mouth ... the caliber of the cigar, the shape of the mouth.

Francesca: Broodthaers seems to suggest that the cigar’s formal qualities are key—the way its color and shape match the general’s portrait. But, of course, it’s not that simple. Take a look at the back of the canvas, where he wrote, “So what, Karl? Sigmund?,” referencing Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. This conjures up a lot of potential interpretations. For example, from a Marxist perspective, the painting is a commodity. So does the cigar ruin or enhance its value? On the other hand, a Freudian would argue that the cigar has sexual connotations, especially in the mouth of the general, a figure of masculine authority. To me, the question marks suggest that it might be impossible—or even unnecessary—to establish a definitive meaning. This is an aspect of Broodthaers’s work that I really like: it has an open-ended quality.

From “10,000 Francs Reward,” 1974, reprinted in the catalogue, p 249