Le Corbeau et le Renard

Marcel Broodthaers


Installation, variable dimensions.
Materials: projectieschermen; fotografisch doek; typografie op karton; 16 mm film

Collection: Collectie Ivo & Monique Van Vaerenbergh.


7 – 31 March 1968

The edition “The Raven and the Fox” was the subject of two exhibitions at Antwerp’s Wide White Space Gallery. The first one, from 7 to 31 March 1968, was by far the more important one since it showed for the first time this complex work, a real environment including the projection of a film and the presentation of a whole set of images and texts.  The second, presented from 17 to 30 June 1972, was a somewhat modified version.

The edition

In 1967 Broodthaers wanted to shoot a film, that he wished to present at the Knokke-le Zoute experimental film festival which took place every year between Christmas and the New Year.  He filmed the elements of his everyday environment against a background of texts mixed with images of his wife, his daughter, Magritte, a bunch of flowers… The primary text is a poem by Broodthaers, based on the fable by La Fontaine, “The Raven and the Fox”.

Broodthaers had the brilliant idea not to show the film on a white surface, but on a screen covered with texts, thereby generating a confusion which made it possible to multiply the possibilities of reading the different overlapping texts. He designed two projection screens of different sizes, on which were reproduced different fragments of his text; the first one (95 x 130 cm), stretched between two strips of black wood, unrolls like a geographical map; the second one (61 x 80 cm), pasted on to a stiff background, had a black frame in the shape of a television screen on which were reproduced, in Broodthaers’s hand and in white letters, bits and pieces of the fable by La Fontaine. The edition was supplemented by a large wooden box covered with printed photographic canvas containing:

- two texts printed on cardboard, one of which is illustrated by 4 colour photographs; the texts of those two pieces of cardboard will be the basis of the film and the covers for the screens, the box and the sticks;

- a cut-out in photographic canvas of a saucepan of mussels pasted on to felt;

- double-sided photographic canvas made out of two pieces of canvas pasted to one another. On one of the sides appeared a milk bottle, on the other a hand-written text entitled Note

- two sticks of wood also covered with printed photographic canvas;        

- a round metal box containing the 16 mm film, the base of which is covered with green felt.

In December 1967 the film was rejected by the Knokke-le-Zoute festival; as a matter of fact it had been shown on a normal screen, given the difficulty of rigging up a special screen for a film that only lasted seven minutes. Broodthaers was nevertheless able to show his work at private screenings organised by Isi Fiszman. There he met some film makers, such as Walerian Borowczyk, as well as Shirley Clarke, a star of the avant-garde cinema, who gave him their support (see the invitation card). As for me, I suggested to Broodthaers that I would buy the rights for his work and present the whole thing a few months later at the Wide White Space Gallery in Antwerp.

It was important for Broodthaers that the box and its contents, the film and the two screens should be marketed together. A forty-copy edition of the box was envisaged, but in view of the difficulty and cost of its production, only seven copies were made. As for the film and its screens, Broodthaers suggested they should come out in a limited edition — a reproduction of the film and the piece of photographic canvas wouldn’t be a problem.

However, the edition was uncommonly unlimited, as collectors and film libraries failed to manifest any interest in the films and in the screens.

The Invitation Card

The invitation to the opening of the exhibition “The Raven and the Fox” was  printed on a card, double folded, designed by Broodthaers. On the front you could read a description of the edition in white letters against a black background, accompanied by small photographs. Broodthaers had amused himself parodying an old-fashioned didactic style, with which he had mingled the laudatory comment by Shirley Clarke: ‘I find this film a unique experiment in adding a new dimension to cinema. Bravo.’

The back shows an image of which Broodthaers was particularly fond: his name printed with a corrected spelling mistake, placed in the middle of the white rectangle with the rounded edges of a television screen, an ironic allusion to an ostensible celebrity. Inside the card a work had been reproduced: the main part of the text of the poem by Broodthaers of which some words appeared through a glass jar. A second eulogy was written at the bottom of the page, this one by Walerian Borowczyk: ‘I saw “The Raven and the Fox”,  a film which is true poetry.’ Facing this, still inside the card, was the printed description of the edition, in French, in Dutch and in English, and the subscription price. Texts by a French critic and a Belgian one, Otto Hahn and Jean Dypréau, had been printed on a loose sheet.

The Exhibition

For the opening of the first exhibition (7-31 March 1968), Broodthaers had invited musician friends to play pieces by Bach and Vivaldi, which lent the event a classic, solemn stature, a rather unusual feature in an avant-garde gallery. Let us not forget that Broodthaers’s sartorial style, dressed as always in a traditional dark suit and a white shirt, did not correspond to that of artists at the time, which in general meant a pair of jeans and a coloured shirt.

When entered the gallery you could see a few large-scale works, such as L’Armoire à charbon [The Coal Cupboard], the Panneau de charbon [The Coal Panel], and a table covered in misshapen bricks, which had no direct link to the edition.

To the left of the first chimney was a work entitled The Raven and the Fox. It consisted of a photographic canvas on which was reproduced a portrait of Broodthaers, seen from behind, copying the fable by La Fontaine, and of a pedestal on which a typewriter was placed, into which three small photographic canvases, reductions of the large painting, had been inserted.

The different elements of the edition took up the centre of the gallery. What catched the eye the most was the large canvas that hung from the frame of the door separating the two spaces in the gallery.

On that canvas, not part of the edition but serving as the projection screen for the opening, part of the Broodthaers poem had been hand-painted. He would later reuse it many times to show the film to a numerous audience. The two screens in the edition were on the wall, the rigid screen to the right of the second chimney and the flexible screen to its left; the projector was placed opposite, indicating that the film could be shown during the exhibition. Both the large box and the sticks were placed on that same chimney. To the right, on a low table were piled up alternately three other boxes and three rigid screens, while three flexible screens, rolled up, were set against the wall; thus making it explicit, with several copies. On the wall opposite, the different sheets and canvases which formed the contents of the box hung behind glass.

The modified 1972 edition          

As publishing the box was a costly and complex operation, Broodthaers decided to limit himself to the seven copies that had been produced for the 1968 exhibition. He then designed a very beautiful cardboard folder (80 cm x 60 cm), illustrated by the La Fontaine portrait and intended to contain the cardboards and the canvases, most of them produced in 1968. He replaced one of the four colour photographs illustrating the text printed on cardboard with a reproduction of that same cardboard.

“The Raven and the Fox” therefore exists in 7 boxes, numbered 1 to 7, and 33 folders, numbered 8 to 40. A few more changes occurred: the two canvases in the double-sided canvas were no longer assembled, but presented separately; instead of the “saucepan of mussels” against a background of felt, Broodthaers preferred a photographic canvas representing him from behind copying the poem by La Fontaine, an image which accompanies the typewriter in the work described above.

Anny De Decker, 1991

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