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John K. Grande

Pierre Boogaerts ... A Retrospective

Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
August 3, 2001 to January 6, 2002

[ 805 words ]


The well deserved retrospective of photographer Pierre Boogaerts's works that begins this summer at the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, reawakens a whole world of conceptual photography that was, and still remains, an artform that developed apart from, yet was well aware of, the dominant trends of minimalism, Pop and land art of that period. As Boogaerts once wrote: "Our vision is socially and culturally constructed (...) We see what we believe we have to see. This is the reason the image represents more our belief than it does reality. In fact, the image represents us." Belgian born, Montreal-based Boogaerts was, throughout his career, an artist who followed a train of thought. His art career began in 1971 and effectively ended in 1990. He donated 20 years of his work in 1994 to the National Gallery of Canada. Sixty of these works, which include negatives, maquettes, and finished works, form the basis of this retrospective of this internationally acclaimed Canadian photographer. In 1981, when he met Vlady Stévanovitch, Boogaerts was persuaded to study and eventually teach Tai Ji Quan.

Boogaerts was very much a Montreal phenomenon, publishing his work in Parachute magazine, exhibiting at Gilles Gheerbrandt and Galerie Optica. Over time he created a body of work that was overtly analytical. They included exposés of the nature-culture paradigm as in his Référence: Plantation/Jaune Bananier (1975), a series of works taken in and around Montreal and Brussels earlier on, that fixated on the theme of a banana grove, or in Dieffenbachia (1985), Lys (1986-88) and other floral/arboreal studies. Pierre Dessureault, in his interesting catalogue examination of Boogaerts's photographic accomplishment, refers to the maquettes for Leaves-Traces (1982) as a cycle in which the artist "breaks free from the rigidity of the photographic support and displays a group of unmounted prints on a wall, cascading down the wall, to reconstruct an image of dead leaves or tracks in the snow." The parallels between leaves of photo paper and tree leaves are evident and exemplary in this work.

Affirming the totality of the photographic image, rejecting the pictorial and formal aspects of the photo image, Boogaerts had a basic awareness of historical precedent. His generation of Montreal artists who explored and extended the language of experimental photography included Serge Tousignant, Bill Vazan and Robert Walker.

A master of the intimate, soulful gaze, Boogaerts's photographic pilgrimage took him to New York, where he produced the Street Corners (Pyramids] (1978-79) series of works, later published in a book. The inversion of sky and architecture, the diachronic building of multiple images to create a single work, show Boogaerts masterfully interpreting urban spaces, dimensions and sites in his own unique pictorial way. The interplay between the photo image and its assembly could consist of multiple imagery or it could be within a single rectangular format. He drew with images, exploring the cosmic void, the opening and closing of visual space. The tactile and optical worlds intertwined, overlapped in an unusual and often surprising way.

Between 1971 and 1990 Boogaerts produced a unique body of work, exploring in depth and with great subtlety, supported by extremely personal theoretical underpinnings, the paradoxical distinction between the virtual space of photography and real space. He sought to demonstrate the mechanisms of vision by exploring and reformulating the photographic process in an astonishing number of ways. Included in this show are his Synthetization of the Sky (1973-75) series. These multiple images of cloud and sky formations are arranged to build a basic pyramidal geometry, an artificial structure in a serial grid format that alludes to another reality (that of the artist/photographer's cosmic vision) using photo documentation as its raw resource.

Boogaerts's collective oeuvre can be seen as a unified whole, a succession of long cycles of work, within which he examined specific aspects of the medium under thematic guise. A poetic essence is frequently overwhelmed by the conceptual and theoretical anachronisms Boogaerts's investigated, always with great sincerity and subjectivity. Analogy, parallel truisms, visual devices are part of his toolbox of visual tricks. Visual beauty operates in tandem with associations inherent to the medium of photography. In this sense Boogaerts is an artist's artist, well aware of the tautological dilemmas and history of photography while seeking to advance beyond the limitations of its central paradigm. Above all, Pierre Boogaerts' photographic oeuvre calls into question the formulation and function of the work of art itself. His works resonate with a tenor of experimentation and exploration that was of the era in which they were produced. For this reason alone this retrospective is a must see.

Vie des Arts

Text: © John K. Grande. All rights reserved.


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