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Pierre Boogaerts
From September 11th 2010 to October 16th 2010
Voitures bleues et ciel au-dessus de chacune d’elles (1976-1979) | Coins de rues (Pyramides) N.Y. 1978-79, Partie I (1978-1979)

Curator: Marie-Josée Lafortune

During his studies, Pierre Boogaerts strove to move away from the mimetic and, although he mastered its codes, from pictorial tradition. So he turned to photography, in which he saw an opening, a democratization of the image. "Photography is the only medium that affords me that distance," he says. In fact, he is more interested in the stretched canvas considered as a sign in itself than he is in marking its surface. He evinces a desire to deal with representation differently, not just as image, but as materiality. It isn’t photography’s documentary value that appeals to him, but the reproducibility of the medium and its cataloguing ability, both decisive in his practice. This, among other things, explains the free use he makes of the camera for its technical qualities, as a material.

By way of actions, exercises, and city strolls taken through Montreal and New York, he developed a unique conceptual approach that led him to think of the image in terms of the photographic act. His first tries are telling—one could speak of a new subjectivity. In Références : plantation / jaune bananier, showcased at OPTICA in 1975, the juxtaposition of a street light and a banana tree create what he calls a "reference image." "Giving an object a banana-yellow reference highlights the impact the (reference) image has on the object but also on the object’s environment," he says. Boogaerts then uses the term "synthetic image" as a new paradigm describing the gap between nature and culture present in his series. On this same theme, New York, N.Y. 1976-1977 – a three-part exhibition jointly presented by OPTICA and Galerie Gilles Gheerbrant in 1977 – is characteristic of his methods, which, along with the conception of the exhibition, "operate" upon both representation and our relationship to the work.

Moreover, the artist’s writings testify to some interest in questions raised by the autonomy of the medium and the painting/spectator relationship. His attention to the framing, in what it encompasses and excludes, shows that his conception of photography is informed by the history of painting. It is generally accepted that "the frame determines the autonomy of the painting" (Arasse) and that perspective has transformed Western vision by positioning the spectator as recipient of the painting. For Boogaerts, photography is then part of a process that extends toward modernity.

That is at least what is suggested by the notions of perspective, composition, and the infinite in the series that make up this exhibition, Voitures bleues et ciel au-dessus de chacune d’elles (1976-1979) and Coins de rues (Pyramides) N.Y. 1978-79, Partie I (1978-1979). The earth/sky motif in the two diptychs in Voitures bleues et ciel au-dessus de chacune d’elles is illustrated by the car, on the one hand, and the opening in the sky and clouds on the other. In the upper part of the first work, the black mass of the buildings delimits a passage that opens onto the infinite. The sky’s monochromatic blue is identical to that of the vehicle in the lower part, where the buildings’ shadows and artist’s portrait are reflected. The second diptych may rather be read as a recollection of painting: in a mirror effect, car and clouds capture atmospheric variations of the landscape, the one their source (the sky), the other their mirror (the screen surface).

This series is distinct from Coins de rues (Pyramides) N.Y. 1978-79, Partie I, which shows geometric abstractions, some critics at the time even seeing in them a kinship with the constructivists. Yet our gaze is still directed toward the sky, where the tops of buildings rear up from the edges of the image — a correspondence between street intersections and the limits of the frame, that which appears in the viewfinder. Here, the artist isolates a detail and repeats it sequentially: the pyramid, symbol of civilization, appears in every photograph and orients the image’s meaning, much as the "banana-yellow" did in earlier works. Boogaerts insists on the fact that the pyramid (reference) was everywhere in New York and in the news — as instanced in the Tutankhamun exhibition and the start of Middle East peace talks.

This last body of work signals a very active period for the artist, who constantly questioned the image and the objectivity of the camera. For him, the outward gaze (eye/lens) fashions our rapport with the world. The dilemma that motivates him and that eventually leads him to interrupt his practice is evident when he writes: "to photograph, is [. . .] to accept the machine’s point of view, to accept to frame our gaze according to that of the camera such that it may conform to that of society."1
- Marie-Josée Lafortune

1. Pierre Boogaerts, «Perspective, photographie et encadrement», Parachute, no 30, (March-April-May 1983), p.39.

The works in the exhibition come from the collection of Concordia University’s Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery. I wish to thank Pierre Boogaerts for his support, as well as Mélanie Rainville, Max Stern Curator, for her invaluable contribution, and Michèle Thériault, director of the gallery, for the loan of the works.

List of works

From the series Voitures bleues et ciel au-dessus de chacune d’elles, 1976-1979
Diptych, 1979
Dimensions: 51 x 61cm
Chromogenic print on fiberboard
Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery collection, Concordia University

From the series Voitures bleues et ciel au-dessus de chacune d’elles, 1976-1979
Diptych, 1979
Dimensions: 51 x 61cm
Chromogenic print on fiberboard
Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery collection, Concordia University

Coin de Madison Ave et 49 th St., N.Y. – 12 décembre 1978, 1978
From the series Coins de rues (Pyramides) N.Y. 1978/79, Partie 1, 1978-1979
Chromogenic print on fiberboard
Dimensions: 51 x 61cm
Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery collection, Concordia University

Coin de Broadway et 37th St., N.Y. – 12 décembre 1978, 1978
From the series Coins de rues (Pyramides) N.Y. 1978/79, Partie 1, 1978-1979
Chromogenic print on fiberboard
Dimensions: 51 x 61cm
Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery collection, Concordia University

Coin de Lexington Ave et 49 th St., N.Y. – 16 janvier 1979, 1979
From the series Coins de rues (Pyramides) N.Y. 1978/79, Partie 1, 1978-1979
Chromogenic print on fiberboard
Dimensions: 51 x 61cm
Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery collection, Concordia University

Coin de 5th Ave et 50 th St., N.Y. – 18 janvier 1979, 1979
From the series Coins de rues (Pyramides) N.Y. 1978/79, Partie 1, 1978-1979
Chromogenic print on fiberboard
Dimensions: 51 x 61cm
Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery collection, Concordia University

For the 14th edition of the Journées de la culture, Optica offers a guided tour. Admission is free. See you there!
Journées de la culture


Born in Brussels in 1946, Pierre Boogaerts has lived in Montreal since 1974 and has exhibited in Canada, the United States, and Europe. In the 1990s, he quit all artistic activity and donated his work to the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, in Ottawa. In 1998, he founded the Centre Pierre Boogaerts, wholly dedicated to the teaching of the Art of Chi, following Stévanovitch’s method.