In 1964, at age forty, Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976) proclaimed that his years of writing poetryóof being “good for nothing,” in his wordsówere over, and a brief but dazzling artistic career began. Considered a founding father of institutional critique, Broodthaers created hundreds of objects, books, films, photographs and exhibitions, including a “fictive” museum of modern art that evolved from an installation in his own home to a massive exhibition of over three hundred works representing eagles. In The Absence of Work, Rachel Haidu argues that all of Broodthaers’s art is defined by its relationship to language. His perception of his poetry’s “failure to communicate” led him to explore in his art the noncommunicative, nontransparent uses of language. By showing us the ways in which language is instrumentalized across societyóused for its efficiency despite the complexities it introduces into communicationóBroodthaers shows us how we imagine language to work and points us to its hidden operations.
Haidu’s characterization of Broodthaers’s contribution to institutional critique represents a major departure from the usual approach to this movement. Considering the wider political implications of his work, including its reflections on national identity and democracy, she explores how they derive from historical references and examines his work’s relationships to the works of other contemporary artists. With The Absence of Work, one of the first monographs on Broodthaers in English, Haidu demystifies a crucial and enigmatic figure in postwar and contemporary art.