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ART REVIEW : Sincerely Insincere

July 18, 1989|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

Where to begin making sense of all this? The only thing difficult about it is that Broodthaers suggests so many possible approaches. There is no set, unequivocal meaning to any of the pieces, though many critics are quite certain that their interpretation is the best one. Broodthaers himself would probably undermine any such certainty. He was far more interested in the phenomena of how meanings change according to their context and how the organization of facts and objects determines our knowledge of them.

Yet even as he warns you of the folly of categorizing, he inspires the urge to reorganize his show according to the systems he ridicules. Once you get sucked into this, you're involved in an endless game of list-making. And no sooner have you started a list than you realize that each category has an opposite. Among the possibilities:

-- Useful things that are rendered useless (a table and a music stand covered with mussel shells, a cabinet filled with egg shells, books that can't be read) and functional objects that only appear to be useless (shovels covered with the patterns of bricks or vines).

-- Objects that gain importance by being massed together (the ever-present shells, pictures of eyes and mouths, a stack of canvases) or, conversely, by being isolated (letters of the alphabet, bones, a watering can).

-- Actual objects labeled accurately ("Thigh Bone of a Belgian Man") and inaccurately (a "Bottle of Milk" painted to suggest the real thing).

-- Words that stand in for objects or concepts ( sujet written across a cloud in a tiny sky painting instead of a painted subject , words on walls of "The White Room," framed letters and words that spell out cheminee d'usine in the rough shape of a factory chimney) and objects that impersonate other objects (paint that represents white sauce on a pot of mussels and mussels used as paint on canvas).

You can go on, but the point is to recognize contradictions inherent in any attempt to fix meanings. Order according to Broodthaers is not a static state of perfection but a fluid stream of possibilities. If there is one right way to see things, it is that they are in a state of flux.

The museum will screen Broodthaers' films at 6 p.m. on Aug. 10 and Oct. 12; 3 p.m. on Sept. 10. Talks on Broodthaers are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 and 14; 3 p.m. on Sept. 24.

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