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The Triumph of Mussels (Triomphe de Moules I [Moules Casserole])

Marcel Broodthaers, Belgian, 1924 - 1976


Painted and enameled iron alloy; mussel shells with paint

18 1/2 x 19 5/8 x 14 5/8 inches (47 x 49.8 x 37.1 cm) Weight: 27.7 lb. (12.56 kg)

© 2016 The Estate of Marcel Broodthaers / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. R. Sturgis Ingersoll and Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris, 1997

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Created from the discarded shells of mussels, a culinary specialty of the artist's native Belgium, this assemblage equates cuisine with culture, wittily prodding viewers to question how a museum reveres strange objects from different nations. The French word for mussel, "moule," also means "mold," a punning allusion to the traditional sculptural techniques that Broodthaers rejected.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The piled-up mussel shells in this piece, made in 1965, provocatively merge art with life while also ironically saluting the gastronomic specialty of Broodthaers's native Belgium. The casserole pot contains a vertiginous mass of mussel shells, held together with a diaphanous coating of polyester resin and pigment in colors evocative of the seashore. A former poet and bookdealer, Broodthaers had begun his career as a visual artist the year before, prompted by his powerful response to American Pop art. Broodthaers considered Pop art an extension of the work of his hero and fellow Belgian, the Surrealist painter René Magritte. He admired and emulated Magritte's consummate ability to elaborate a pictorial language aimed at overturning our expectations of reality.

    Broodthaers's burgeoning mussel pot also can be understood as a meditation upon the ambiguity of language. The work turns on the pun in French between la moule (mussel) and le moule (mold), and the properties of this familiar mollusk, whose shell is composed of calcareous material secreted by the mussel, as if sculpting its own shape. Broodthaers's description of the casserole of surging mussel shells as an "explosion of vitality"1 introduces an erotic reading of the work, while his choice of medium firmly locates it within the legacy of Marcel Duchamp. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 114.

    1) Quoted in Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art, by Ronald Alley (London: The Tate Gallery, 1982), p. 81.

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