Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective

Marcel Broodthaers. Pense-Bête (Memory aid). 1964 65201

Poetry book. Letterpress, 32 pages, some with collage, overall: 11 5/8 x 8 3/4 x 3/16" (29.5 x 22.2 x 0.4 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. © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels

Francesca: Broodthaers’s last book of poetry became source material for one of his first sculptures. The title, Pense-Bête, means Memory Aid.

Broodthaers, Christophe Cherix: I took a bundle of fifty copies of a collection called Pense-Bête and half-embedded them in plaster. The wrapping paper is torn off at the top of the "sculpture," so you can see the stack of books (the bottom part is hidden by the plaster). Here you cannot read the book without destroying its sculptural aspect. . . .

I was surprised that viewers reacted quite differently from what I had imagined. Everyone so far, no matter who, has perceived the object either as an artistic expression or as a curiosity. "Look! Books in plaster!" No one had any curiosity about the text; ignorant of whether it was the burial of prose or a poetry, of sadness or of pleasure.

Francesca: In fact, when he first exhibited this work, he displayed open copies of Pense-Bête nearby, so visitors could pick them up and read his poems. I point this out because Broodthaers never truly abandoned poetry. Even as a visual artist, his work remained grounded in language.

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