In 1964 the poet Marcel Broodthaers (1924–1976), a member of the Belgian Revolutionary Surrealists, reinvented himself as a visual artist: symbolically burying his literary career, he gathered 50 copies of his recent book Pense-Bête (Reminder) and embedded them in plaster. The result went on display in a Brussels gallery in his first solo show a few months later. On the invitation card he wrote:
I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life. For some time I had been no good at anything. I am forty years old … Finally the idea of inventing something insincere crossed my mind and I got to work immediately.
For the next 12 years—until his death of liver disease on his 52nd birthday—Broodthaers questioned the very definition of art. Inspired by René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp, he created a multi-faceted oeuvre that encompasses artists’ books, collages, films, installations and sculptures. These works were at once absurd and suffused with a melancholy poetry: a white cupboard completely stuffed with eggshells, a wooden tower of glass jars filled with identical photos of a woman’s elegantly made-up eye from a cosmetics ad, a black steamer pot overflowing with mussels.