Marcel Broodthaers 1924–1976
Lithograph and screenprint on paper
1048 x 664 mm
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1977
Citron-Citroen is based on a poster advertising the coastal activities of fishing and collecting shellfish, indicated by the subtitle ‘Réclame pour la Mer du Nord’ (Advertisement for the North Sea), handwritten in the upper left corner of the work. The poster shows two scenes: the upper image depicts fishing nets anchored to the sea shore where a figure walks on the beach; the lower image shows a man and two women scraping mussel shells off rocks and wooden groynes. Below each scene are illustrations of fish and shellfish. The attire of the figures depicted, and the style of the ships on the horizons, indicate that this is a vintage poster, possibly dating from the nineteenth century, or at least that it uses old-fashioned imagery. Broodthaers used the image of the entire poster to create his editioned screenprint, retaining the signs of wear and tear at its corners, and adding a white border around it. The riveted holes that allowed the poster to be fixed to the wall are also visible in the print, though rendered useless by being transferred into a printed image. Citron-Citroen is one of several works that Broodthaers made using found imagery such as vintage posters and postcards (see, for example, Dear Little Sister 1972, Tate P07208).
The use of discarded everyday materials was a strategy that had initially sprung from financial necessity, but one that became central to Broodthaers’s artistic project, a practice that bore the legacy of Marcel Duchamp’s (1887–1968) ‘assisted readymades’. The use of a found image also calls into question the extent to which Broodthaers might claim authorship of the work, a strategy reminiscent not only of Duchamp, but of the wider surrealist movement, where appropriation, as well as collective and automatic methods, was harnessed to suppress authorial identity.
As with other prints by Broodthaers – such as The Farm Animals, 1974 (Tate P07385) – there is a didactic element to this image. The two scenes are arranged in a simple frieze-like way, so that their subjects may be clearly identified. The images of the fish and shellfish, depicted separately from the main narratives, take on the status of diagrams or specimens, removed from their natural habitat for classification or study purposes. This is supported by a numerical key situated at the bottom of the page that lists their names in both French and Flemish. It reads as follows, the left-hand list referring to the upper row of creatures, and that on the right to the lower row.
On the left:
Péche au filet dit: bas-parc [fixed fishing net: lower bed]
Vissgherij met stelnet [lower bed with fixed net]
1. Plie – Pladijs [flounder]
2. Cabillaud – Kabeljauw [cod]
3. Turbot – Terbot [turbot]
4. Sole – Tong [sole]
5. Raie – Rog [skate]
6. Barbue – Griet [brill]
On the right:
Peche aux moules et crabes [mussel and crab catch]
Mossel en krabbe vangst [mussel and crab catch]
1. Crabe – Krabbe [crab]
2. Moule – Mossel [mussel]
The list of names not only offers a key to the species illustrated, but also introduces an element of word play, centering on linguistic difference and similarity, that informs much of Broodthaers’s work A black strip at the bottom of the page, added by the artist, bears the title of the work, also in French and Flemish, in bold lemon yellow letters: Citron – Citroen (Lemon – Lemon). Though at first the title may appear incongruous, it in fact bears a direct relationship to the fish that are illustrated above, a slice of lemon being the traditional garnish with fish.
References to fish, fishing and the North Sea are frequent in Broodthaers’s oeuvre but the activities and objects depicted in Citron-Citroen also carry an explicit cultural meaning. The original poster is an advertisement for the North Sea, which meets the north-east coast of Broodthaers’s native Belgium. The mussel in particular is traditionally regarded as a Belgian national dish. Broodthaers had used mussel shells in a number of his early sculptures, such as Casserole and Closed Mussels 1965 (Tate T01976). His frequent use of mussels and fish also recalls the traditional representation of food, in particular shellfish, in Flemish still life and genre scenes of the seventeenth century. Broodthaers’s decision to use a vintage poster that depicts traditional occupations may express a sense of nostalgia for past centuries and a way of life untroubled by modern mechanisation and the politics of the art world to which he felt subjected.
Broodthaers’s appropriation of the vintage poster goes beyond simply reproducing it and adding his own title: above the two parts of the new work he added the numbers ‘1.’ and ‘2.’. While the original key exists to clarify the specimens contained in the poster, this second level of classification is more mysterious. Broodthaers had incorporated arbitrary labels such as this into several of his previous works and into his 1971 exhibition in Düsseldorf. There, he had displayed assorted disparate objects on the walls of the exhibition space, labelling each with a number or letter: ‘Fig. 1’, ‘Fig. A’, ‘Fig. 0’. At the same time, the repetition of the same labels, combined with the absence of any unified sequence, undermined the purpose of such modes of signification.
Citron-Citroen reflects Broodthaers’s broader interest in the multiple registers of meaning within language and the problematic relationship between words and images. In this respect, he was particularly influenced by his fellow Belgian artist René Magritte (1898–1967), whom he had met and become friendly with around 1945. Broodthaers was attracted primarily by Magritte’s concern with language and its relationship to objects, a stance that had long distinguished the older artist from his surrealist painter colleagues. Magritte’s text ‘Words and Images’, published in the 1929 issue of La Révolution Surrealiste, had questioned the conventional relationship between words and things. Magritte’s 1929 painting La Trahison des images (The Treachery of Images, Los Angeles County Museum of Art) presented the image of a pipe above a caption asserting: ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ (This is not a pipe). That Broodthaers was impressed by his compatriot’s strategy is clear from the numerous references that he made to Magritte in his films, artworks and writing throughout his career.
For Broodthaers, objects and words have an interrelationship that cannot be disavowed. In 1974, the year that he produced Citron-Citroen, he stated in an interview: ‘objects carry, in a most sensational manner, the marks of a language. Words, numerations, signs inscribed on the object itself.’ The following year, in an interview at Tate, Broodthaers attributed his repeated use of the motif of the fish in his work to this interest in language. He described his fascination with the non-linguistic modes of communication between fish, and the difficulty experienced by humans in accessing such communication. Ultra-sonic fish communication, he surmised, contains no such interdependancy between word and image. Such concerns point to an ongoing preoccupation with the conventions of language, perhaps a legacy of Broodthaers’s early career as a poet.
Supported by The AHRC Research Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacies.