Marcel Broodthaers

Magritte gave Broodthaers a copy of Mallarme’s Un coup de Des jambs n’abolira le Hasard. In a sense this act was Magritte’s way of ‘explaining’ his art to the young admirer without explaining it literally but it also opened out the heritage of which his art was a part.

Broodthaers (b. Brussels, 1924) was a poet until he turned himself into an artist in order to explain Magritte’s art, at least to himself, by means of objects.



Cette roublarde a evité le moule de société

Elle s’est coulee dans le sien propre

D’autres ressemblantes partagent avec elle l’anti mer

Elle est parfaite. 



This clever thing has avoided the mould of society

She has cast herself in her very won.

Others just like her share the anti-sea

She is perfect.


This poem (impossible to translate adequately because of its pun une mould = a mussel; un moule = a mould), was written before he became an artist. It could have been for a bestiary, for obviously the mould stands for a type of person or behaviour as do the animals of La Fontaine. It, or ‘she’ in French, is her own mould, the crustacean literally, the person metaphorically. She is shaped by her own shell not by fashion. At the same time she makes (secretes) her own mould or shell.


Words are stripped of meaning by being turned into an object but as a result attain to a new meaning. Mallarmé’s poem ‘Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’ (1897) uses the shape of lines of words to add to their grammatical meaning.

From Marcel Broodthaers (London: Tate Gallery, 1980)
Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 18.12.11.pngScreen Shot 2018-10-10 at 18.12.39.png

Marcel Broodthaers Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance) 1969

This work is a homage to the 1887 modernist poem Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance), by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, of which Broodthaers wrote: “Mallarmé is at the source of modern art. . . . He unwittingly invented modern space.” Mallarmé’s poem proposed to liberate language from conventions of space and typography by stretching sentences across spreads and using multiple typefaces to abstract both form and content. In designing his edition, Broodthaers blocked out the lines of the original work with solid black bars of varying width, dependent on the original type size, turning the original text into an abstract image of the poem (Broodthaers also replaced the word Poème, on the title page, with Image).

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