When Marcel Broodthaers Turned Pitchman

THE DAILY PIC: In 1971, the Belgian tried his hand at selling out – as art.


THE DAILY PIC (#1533): Of all the hundreds of fascinating objects in the Alden Projects show of ephemera produced by and around Marcel Broodthaers, my favorite is this ad for deluxe Van Laack shirts, with the artist photographed as the shirts’ pitchman. It appeared in a March, 1971 issue of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.

The ad brings Broodthaers closer even than normal to the work of Andy Warhol, who had already made various appearances in ads, and as an ad-maker, by the time Broodthaers made his. The difference (and it’s a big one) is that Warhol was already a big celebrity by the time he become a front-man for products, so the line between selling, selling-out and making art was a tricky tightrope Warhol was walking. Whereas when Broodthaers appeared in the shirt ad, he came closer to being a true double-agent, infiltrating commerce from the world of art.

The ad’s caption bills him (in classy French) as the big-shot Director of the Museum of Modern Art – whose location goes unmentioned, and which, as we saw yesterday, did not even come close to existing. He’s got all the trappings of male authority: a big fat cigar (which is just a cigar) and a touch of well-fed gut, while the caption implies that he’s such a macher that he’s even refused to “wear the van Laack monocle”. (But I’ve found no sign that such a thing existed; maybe it was a riff – by Broodthaers or van Laack? – on the Hathaway eye-patch?

M. le Directeur has also assumed one other marker of early-‘70s power culture: A piece of hard-edged, almost-Op abstraction, printed right onto his shirt and worthy of any bank lobby.

That’s my very favorite detail in the whole piece, and ads a level of conceptual and art-historical complexity that Warhol’s more straightforward sell-outs did not always manage to achieve.

Here’s a bit of context for the making of the ad from an obituary for the shirt tycoon and art collector Rolf Hoffmann:

The Hoffmanns’ collection of Soviet Constructivism influenced Van Laack’s graphics, packaging and design and led to limited-edition clothes based on original Constructivist designs from the 1917 Revolution. Van Laack ran advertising featuring the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers and included a “Shirt Art Gallery” for emerging artists within their offices, which also had a mural by Blinky Palermo. Andy Warhol painted a diamond dust portrait of the Hoffmanns in 1980 and modelled their shirts for a fashion show in their Manhattan loft.

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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