Éloge du sujet, 1974

Eulogy of the Subject, 1974
Installation, Various dimensions

The relationship between images, objects and words was one of the axes that structured the work of Marcel Broodthaers. In 1974, the poet, artist and filmmaker made his last great work, Éloge du sujet. The French word ‘sujet’ refers to ‘subject’ and at the same time to ‘theme’, a double meaning with which the artist plays. This is an installation of objects organised into three parts: a two-part split-level table or vitrine on which the objects are displayed; a picture hanging on the wall behind the table; and a box on a plinth. Beside each object is a word printed on a card or small label.

Éloge du sujet is constructed through a dialogue with some of the best-known works by one of Broodthaers’ artist referents, fellow Belgian René Magritte. In particular, the work of 1930, La Clef des songes (The Key of Dreams), a painting that had always interested Broodthaers. While in the Magritte picture each word is associated with a painted image, in Broodthaers’ installation each word is associated with a real object: paint palette, hat, mirror, bottle, bag, wooden case, tie, paper box, blank sheet, a piece of paper and an equestrian engraving. Some objects, such as the pipe, hat or mirror directly evoke the paintings of Magritte. Next to the palette, we read pipe; alongside the hat, sujet or subject; next to the bottle, style; next to the mirror, image; alongside the tie, valeur or value; beside the bag, apprêt or primer; and so on for all the objects in the installation.

In the best tradition of Conceptual art, Éloge du sujet plays with the mismatch: it presents words to be seen and objects to be read. In contrast to the conventional semantic system, the words on the cards do not identify the objects. Instead of the usual relationship between words and things, Broodthaers creates metonymy, a phenomenon of semantic change through which one thing is designated with the name of another, yet always based on some kind of logical connection between the two. The thesis seems clear: there is no convention that definitely delimits the meaning of things. It is the observer, the subject, as indicated in the title of the installation, who, experimentally, activates the encounter between words and things. Broodthaers’ artistic practice has renounced representation as a totality and always shows a thought in action, unfinished, experimental and fully linked to the fragmentation of life.

Among other historical partners in Broodthaers’ work we find Erasmus of Rotterdam and Marcel Duchamp. As for Erasmus, Éloge du sujet makes a direct reference to the best-know essay of this late-Renaissance thinker, In Praise of Folly, a text in which he carries out a resounding defence of reason, a form of modern subjectivity. As for the relationship to the work of Duchamp, ‘in Magritte and Duchamp poles are omnipresent, also in this artistic context, and are particularly literal in Éloge, where the visual, once the linguistic anchor has been lifted, no longer owes its expressive potential to any illusionist craft, but to an act of sovereign affirmation: the hat, the mirror, etc., which have emerged from the arsenal of all objects’. (Meyer, Franz: Marcel Broodthaers. Éloge du sujet. Basel: Kunstmuseum Basel, 1974 [exh. cat.]

Technical details

Original title:
Éloge du sujet
Registration number:
Broodthaers, Marcel
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium
Object type:
Installation with different objects with a label: eight on a table, one in a showcase and one hung on wall
Various dimensions
MACBA Collection. MACBA Consortium. Herbig long-term loan
© Estate of Marcel Broodthaers, VEGAP, Barcelona
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Marcel Broodthaers "Eloge du sujet", 1974
Marcel Broodthaers "Eloge du sujet", 1974
Marcel Broodthaers "Eloge du sujet", 1974