“I Broodthaers was emulating this but with the

“I am no good at
anything. I am forty years old.” 1 Marcel Broodthaers spent the majority
of his life as a struggling poet living in poverty. He turned to visual art at
the age of forty and for twelve extraordinary years, leading up to his death, he helped form
conceptual art as a genre. His legacy continues to pervade in the contemporary
art world that takes the viewing experience to a different level.

 

Un Jardin d’Hiver (A winter Garden) (1974) was originally an installation, a part of his Décors series created in the last years
of his life. Broodthaers themes consisted of art as a commodity, and the
relationship between an artist’s practice and gallery, as well as their
reception. His first inception of creating art was “The idea of inventing something insincere,” 2 the
insincere was art and the galleries themselves. Un Jardin d’Hiver is a parody of the museum and traditional
gallery. It is this classic format of the space that is so comforting; there is
no feeling of unease, just a feeling of familiarity, an instant reminder of the
likes of The National History Museum or any other old museum around the world.

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It was the late nineteenth century that museums began to proliferate in Europe,
collecting historic objects to be viewed by the untraveled general public of
the time. Broodthaers was emulating this but with the idea of found objects,
collecting items that had little worth and had no place inside the rich museums
and high-end art galleries. Broodthaers was pursuing the ideas that Duchamp had
with his Readymades and Rauschenberg
with his Combines. The thought that
anything taken off the street then placed in a gallery instantly becomes high
art. Un Jardin d’Hiver isn’t just
individual objects in a gallery; it is an installation, making the space a
critical part of the artwork. In one corner sits a television monitor connected
to a surveillance camera that is pointed directly towards the centre of the
gallery. This breaks the divide between the artist’s artwork and the viewer.
Once in view of the camera, the viewer becomes a part of the installation. This
concept however has since now become clichéd and can be seen in any
contemporary exhibition on modern technology or modern society. It is
refreshing to see it in a context away from we’re
always being watched.

 

Potted Palms are everywhere and so they should be as
it is described as a garden. On the walls there are framed black and white
images of different categories of animals, elephants, camels, insects and
birds. The images themselves with the antique display cases and vast amounts of
exotic palms link ties to colonialism. Broodthaers is reminding us of the
origins of the museum and its formation of Europe’s colonial past. There is no
violence on show here, however, the violence of colonialism is buried under the
surface and hidden from us, very much like the real colonial-era museums.
Designed to display a paradise and manipulate the audience into thinking that
everything is perfect and showcase the riches and the power. The potted palms
are a symbol of this. They were once an exotic luxury and only found in rich
establishments, but by the seventies had become excessively available and can
now be found in almost every corner of an office lobby in the western world.
What once showed power now sits unwatered and dying, ready to easily be
replaced by an artificial easy-to-keep plant. A somewhat neglected relic of
former glory.

 

Although the idea is historically heavy, Broodthaers
manages to keep the tone of Un Jardin
d’Hiver light and subtle, carefully creating an ambiance of comfort, despite
it appearing cold in a contemporary pale green. The greenery of the tropical
palm draws us into a place of familiarity and contentment. This is because he
was not interested in portraying the violent culture; he was only interested in
the history of the museum and the role of it becoming a sceneographer, to create
a theatrical installation, using accessible objects that could be bought
cheaply and it appears cheap; it evokes the tired modern gallery and museum
space. It resembles a boring office lobby with pictures of animals and lonely
chairs scattered in twos around the room and a single fire extinguisher hidden
beside a potted palm. The camera is watching from the corner, examining every
move – nothing is private. Perhaps Broodthaers was juggling with too many ideas,
colonialism is a big enough theme on its own without the inclusion of the
surveillance camera. Within the same year 1974, he went on to refine the
installation with Un Jardin d’Hiver II, by
removing the surveillance camera and monitor and replacing it with a
projection screen and projector. Instead of a live feed from a camera,
projections of the animals seen on the wall are displayed. The space is also
more confined; the plotted palms and chairs circle the images. Everything is
based around the projections, giving the installation more clarity, however it
does seem to lose the parody of the museum and seems to resemble more of a
presentation room.

 

At first Broodthaers’ Un Jardin d’Hiver can look conceptually dry and simple but that’s
the point. It’s complex and layered with a rich colonial history of European
conquest. He managed to create an ironic paradise, situated in a somewhat
office-like lobby with hints of former colonial glory presented with
Broodthaers subtle touch.