Marcel Broodthaers 1924–1976
Tractatus Logico–Catalogicus – Art or the Art of Selling
Tractatus Logico–Catalogicus – L’Art ou l’art de vendre
Screenprint on paper
606 x 1464 mm
Inscribed with initials
Presented by Alexander Tate Gilmour 1977
Number 75 in an edition of 100
Broodthaers made Tractatus Logico-Catalogicus – Art or the Art of Selling in the spring of 1972 for a solo exhibition of the same name that was held at the Galerie MTL in Brussels.1 It is based on the catalogue of a previous exhibition, L’Exposition à la galerie, also held at MTL, in 1970, at its then premises at 48, rue Armand Campenhout. For this earlier exhibition, Broodthaers had displayed files filled with personal papers pertaining largely to his earlier practice as a poet. These included typed manuscripts of his poems and other writings, around half of them works from the poetry anthologies La Bête Noir (1961) and Pense-Bête (1964), which both pre-date his work as a visual artist.2 On many of the printed pages he added handwritten notes and alterations and also included rough sketches at different stages of completion. There were fifty-one sheets in total, on various kinds of paper, spanning over a decade of artistic and poetic endeavour. The catalogue for the exhibition, in French, Flemish and English, listed and described each page, arranging them into four sections, A–D, with numbered sub-sections, as well as describing how the work should be arranged in the gallery space. The catalogue thus became an essential part of the viewing experience, made particularly necessary by the fact that one of the folders (that which contained the sixteen sheets that comprised section D) remained closed for the duration of the exhibition.
For the 1972 exhibition at MTL (held at the gallery’s new premises), Broodthaers focused even further on the role of the exhibition catalogue. He reprinted his 1970 catalogue in a limited edition of six, changing the dates on the cover, but otherwise leaving it virtually intact. In addition, he produced the editioned print called Tractatus Logico-Catalogicus – Art or the Art of Selling, which consists of negative images of the pages of this newly dated catalogue. Broodthaers reused the three printing blocks that had been used to print the catalogue in large sheets of four pages each, ready to be folded and cut down to book format. The delineation between each of the three blocks, laid side by side, is clearly visible on the finished work, signified by grey vertical bands bearing the printer’s measurement markings, which would ordinarily be trimmed off. The method of printing the catalogue in large sheets to be cut down, means that in Broodthaers’s print the pages are not in order, and that half of them, those on the upper register, are upside down. Broodthaers further emphasised this confusion by situating the first block in the middle, so that the central panel contains pages 1 and 2 (upside down) and pages 11 and 12 of the catalogue.
Broodthaers transformed the catalogue, once the only means by which the visitor could access the exhibition in its entirety, into a work that resists understanding, made almost illegible by disorder, disorientation and being printed in negative, with white words on black, ink-saturated paper. In both exhibitions, Broodthaers subverted the traditional notion of the catalogue as a source of information which exists to augment and support an exhibition. In the first instance he made it an indispensable part of the display. In Tractatus Logico-Catalogicus he created an exhibition that consisted solely of a catalogue. That the publication upon which this work was based refers to a different exhibition, held at the gallery’s former address, undermines the role of the catalogue further still.
The title of the work refers to the book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), which was published in German in 1921 and English in 1922.3 In it, Wittgenstein attempted to address the interrelation between the world, thought and language. He proposed that the world is made up of facts (rather than the traditional notion of a world comprised of objects), and that these are represented by thoughts, which are pictorial propositions, which in turn are expressed by means of a logically structured language. The structures of language, according to Wittgenstein, mirror reality. For Wittgenstein, notions of sense and nonsense become central to identifying the limitations of representation, and thus the world.
Such ideas must have appealed to Broodthaers, who had an already developed interest in the relationship between words and images, and had always made linguistic games central to his practice. Broodthaers’s title ironically replaces Wittgenstein’s logic of philosophy with the logic of the catalogue – Logico-Catalogicus – only to have it undermined by the confusion that the work presents. In a statement written in 1971, outlining the Section Financière of his Musée d’Art Moderne Département des Aigles, Broodthaers claimed, ‘I have read the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Wittgenstein. I have bought newspapers, reviews and books, cut them up into bits, mixed them up.’4 This statement both indicates Broodthaers’s broad sources of reference and hints at his somewhat irreverent attitude to literature, theory and current events. Though Wittgenstein’s treatise was much in discussion in intellectual circles during the period that Broodthaers made this work, it is not clear how familiar Broodthaers was with the precise details of Wittgenstein’s thought. It is possible that his adoption and adaptation of Wittgenstein’s famous title may have been a superficial choice motivated by irony and intended, as Anne Rorimer has suggested, partly as a parody of those conceptual artists of the late 1960s and early 1970s who made references to philosophical tomes in order to add weight to their work.5 Broodthaers transformed the indispensable exhibition catalogue into a piece of visual art, but retained the illusion of theoretical weight, creating what Rorimer calls ‘a print that poses as a philosophical tract’.6 Broodthaers attached the same subtitle both to this work and to the 1972 exhibition in which it appeared: Art or the Art of Selling, equating the act of selling art with art itself. He went on to state, in the catalogue of a 1975 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, ‘I do not believe it is legitimate to seriously define Art other than in the light of one constant factor – namely the transformation of Art into merchandise. In our time this process has accelerated to the point at which artistic and commercial values are superimposed.’7 Tractatus Logico-Catalogicus reflects Broodthaers’s ongoing preoccupation with the rarification and commodification of art by galleries and museums. In effect, it reverses the process that Broodthaers outlined, by transforming an item of merchandise (the exhibition catalogue) into art.
Supported by The AHRC Research Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacies.