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'The pictures, here, attempt to deal with the universal through abstraction rather than through symbol; the chemigrams themselves are conceived as unique objects, rather than as the copy for mass media reproduction; they are not to be regarded as windows on the world, but rather as synthesized bits of the world itself, with their own color and texture and shape and provenance.'
John Szarkowski Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967

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Preview "Into the Labyrinth" exhibition
View a short documentary made by the V&A

Pierre Cordier: Into the Labyrinth by Nigel Warburton

'After spending all his life drawing the whole world, a man realizes, just before his death, that this labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face' 'La Suma' by Jorge Luis Borges

Pierre Cordier is sui generis, an intriguing artist working with unconventional media. Using a unique combination of physical and chemical actions and reactions he creates exquisite labyrinthine images, drawing the viewer in to imagined worlds of beauty and geometrical invention. The surface of each piece, which to some degree inscribes itself, consists of patterns and lines that have the intricacy of Islamic art or fractal imagery; rarely figurative, they shimmer and twist with subtle variations. At one level these are traces of Cordier’s activity in the atelier: the inscribed cuts that initiate his process are usually visible on the surface. Yet these are not indexical signs - they do not denote their causes, but rather are catalysts for imaginative exploration of the possible spaces created by the motifs.

“Form, in the chemigram, is the outcome of a process: it does not exist in itself, or in me, it does not wait to be laid out on the surface; it is born of the experiment itself” Pierre Cordier

Although carefully controlled, like a ceramic glaze, the process permits chance effects to emerge, and the resulting effects to be embraced or rejected. The most important link to photography is not the photochemical materials that Cordier uses, alongside waxes and varnishes, but rather the manner in which the process liberates materials to delineate themselves. Yet where photography is principally subtractive, and depictive, with the photographer reducing captured indexical-iconic information to more abstract yet legible form, the chemigram is additive and for the most part non-figurative. Cordier begins with a blank sheet, an idea, very simple materials and a willingness to intervene to shape the processes he initiates.

An admirer of Paul Klee and Saul Steinberg, he is as likely to find inspiration in literature as in painting. Drawn to the metaphysical enigmas of Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘Fictions’ and poems with their parallel realities, Cordier is an instinctive idealist himself, creating fictive spaces that can only be visited with the eye, the mind, and a magnifying glass.

"The ideal viewer is one who finds things in my chemigrams that I didn’t see during their making." Pierre Cordier

A Borges poem, ‘La Suma’, served as a catalyst for an extended series that playfully explores questions of legibility and meaning, transmuting the symbols of the written poem as they appear on the page into shapes that are pictures of words. Though formally connected with their source, they remain literally illegible yet subtly self-reflexive. As Pierre Cordier tells us:

“La Suma’ is my own story - it is the story of any artist.”


Born January 28, 1933 in Brussels, Belgium.
In 1952, meets the great French poet Georges Brassens, who encourages him to follow “a road not yet travelled and full of obstacles”
On November 10, 1956, invents the chemigram technique that combines the physics of painting (varnish, wax, oil) and the chemistry of photography (photosensitive emulsion, developer, fixer); without a camera, without an enlarger, and in full light.
In 1957, first and only photographic reporting (Turkey, Syria, Irak)
In 1958, Otto Steinert invites him to attend a course at his school in Saarbrücken, Germany. Being self-taught, it was his only formal photographic study course.
While practicing as professional photographer, a career abandoned in 1967, he continues to explore the chemigram technique: photo-chemigram (1963), magical varnish (1972) and between 1962 and 1974, participates in experimental films.
From 1965 to 1998, lecturer at the École nationale supérieure des Arts visuels de la Cambre in Brussels.
In 1967, exhibits with Denis Brihat and Jean-Pierre Sudre at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 1968, co-founder with Gottfried Jäger of the Generative Fotografie in Germany.
In 1976, befriends the historian Helmut Gernsheim and, in 1977, while travelling in the US, meets Aaron Siskind who becomes his spiritual father.
In 1979, during the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, France, participates in a film based on a short story by Michel Tournier, gives his first workshop of the technique and meets Brassaï and Lartigue.
In 1988, retrospective of his work at the Musée d’Art moderne in Brussels.
In 1993, presents his Homage to Jorge Luis Borges Livrillisible, La Suma, Topograms at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and, in 1996, in the R.I.P. in Arles.
In 1998, publishes a book of his personal photographs of Georges Brassens and, in 2001, edits a compact disc of his original recordings made in 1952 and 1955.
Corresponding member of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie and associate member of the Académie royale de Belgique, classe des Beaux-Arts, section Peinture et Arts apparentés.
In 2006, establishes Pierre Cordier Foundation.
In 2007, Cinquante ans du chimigramme, retrospective exhibition at the Musée de la Photographie de Charleroi, Belgium and publication of his monograph, le chimigramme – the chemigram by Racine, Brussels.
In 2008-2009, five chemigrams are exhibited at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, with the new acquisitions of the Musée national d’art moderne.
In 2010-11 he is featured in ‘Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and his debut solo exhibition at HackelBury Fine Art, London.Collections


Ministère de la Culture
Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels
Musée d’Ixelles, Brussels
Crédit Communal, Brussels
Provinciaal Museum voor Fotografie, Antwerp
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liège
Musée de Verviers
Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi
Académie Royale de Belgique, Brussels
Crédit Lyonnais-Belgium, Brussels
Groupe Lhoist, Limelette
Brussels International Airport

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône
Galerie du Château d’Eau, Toulouse
Musée de Toulon
FRAC, Metz
Musée Réattu, Arles
Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles
Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris
Musée national d’art moderne du Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Folkwang Museum, Essen
Konkrete Kunst in Europa nach 1945 , Die Sammlung Peter C. Ruppert, Würzburg, D

Institute of Polytechnics, Tokyo

Banque et Caisse d’Épargne

Centro Cultural, Arte Contemporaneo

United Kingdom
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

United States
Museum of Modern Art, New York
International Museum of Photography, Rochester, New York
George Eastman House, Rochester, New York
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Gernsheim Collection, University of Austin, Texas
Center for Creative Photography, University of Tucson, Arizona
Institute of Art, Minneapolis


Selected Individual Exhibitions

1958 6 rue Gabrielle, Bruxelles
1962 Studio 28, Paris
1964 Galerie Pierre Vanderborght, Bruxelles
1966 Galerie Les Contards, Lacoste, F + Brihat & Sudre
1967 A European Experiment, Museum of Modern Art, New York + Brihat & Sudre
1970 Galleria Il Diaframma, Milano (catalogue)
1974 Galerie Michel Vokaer, Bruxelles (catalogue)
1976 Galeria Spectrum, Barcelona, E + Joan Fontcuberta
Galerie Die Brücke, Wien, A 20 ans de chimigramme, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles (catalogue)
1977 Galerie du Château d’Eau, Toulouse, F (catalogue) Neikrug Galleries, New York Galerie Paule Pia, Antwerpen, B (Idem 1982)
1979 Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
1980 Galerie Anne Van Horenbeeck, Bruxelles. Musée Réattu, Arles, F (catalogue) Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, F (catalogue)
1981 FNAC-Montparnasse, Paris
1982 Galerie L’Autre Musée, Bruxelles (catalogue) Academie voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen, B
1983 Benteler Galleries, Houston, Texas, USA + Minkoff. Benson Gallery, Providence, USA. Imprimatur Gallery, Minneapolis, USA. Musée de l’Université, Louvain-la-Neuve, B
1984 Laurence Miller Gallery, New York
1985 Shadai Gallery, Institute of Technology, Tokyo
1986 Galerie Photo Art, Basel, CH + Minkoff. Libreria Agora, Torino, I
1988 Rétrospective, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Art Moderne, Bruxelles (catalogue)
1991 Galerie Le Miroir d’Encre, Bruxelles
1996 Hommage à Jorge Luis Borges, Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Archevêché, Arles, F
2001 Une chimie aléatoire, Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Paris + Frydman (catalogue)
2007 Pierre Cordier, cinquante ans du chimigramme, Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, B
2011 HackelBury Fine Art, London 'Into the Labyrinth'.

Collective Exhibitions (selection)

1958 Subjektive Fotografie 3 + Selbstportrait, Photokina, Köln, D
1959 Steinert + Schüler, Folkwang Museum, Essen, D (Idem Amsterdam, NL). Subjektive Fotografie 3 + 19 photographes belges, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles Foto 59, Galerie Het Hessenhuis, Antwerpen, B
Expressieve Fotografie, Galerie Het Huidevetterhuis, Brugge, B
1960 Ungegenständliche Fotografie, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Basel, CH. Contrastes, Salle du Casino, Blankenberge, B. Fotografi della Nuova Generazione, Pescara, I
1961 Formes Nouvelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles. Salon du Portrait, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Creative Fotografie, Galerie Het Huidevetterhuis, Brugge, B. 3e Biennale Internationale de la Photographie, Grand Palais, Paris
1963 Distinction Prix Jeune Peinture Belge, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles (Idem 1966, 1973)
1965 Comparaisons, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris
1966 Photo Graphie, Galerie du Casino, Knokke, B
1968 Generative Fotografie, Städtlisches Kunsthaus, Bielefeld, D
1969 Vision and Expression, George Eastman House, Rochester, USA
1970 Image 1, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles
1971 Contemporary Photographs I, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
1972 Octave of Prayer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA. Wege zur Computerkunst, Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, CH (Id. D)
1973 Modern and Experimental Colour Photography, The Photographers’ Gallery, London
1975 Generative Fotografie, International Cultureel Centrum, Antwerpen, B (Id.1976)
Photography as Art, Art as Photography, Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, F
1976 Art and Computer, Goethe Institute, München, D
1978 European Colour Photography, The Photographers’ Gallery, London
1979 Les Photographes Imaginaires, Palais de la Découverte, Paris. De Fotografie in België 1940-1980, Het Sterckshof, Antwerpen, B. Art et Photographie, Kunst en Camera, Galerie CGER, Bruxelles
1981 Autoportraits photographiques, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Sammlung Otto Steinert, Folkwang Museum, Essen, D
1982 Biennale de la Critique, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, B. D’un Art Bul à l’autre, Centre Culturel de la Communauté française de Belgique, Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Paris
1983 Entwicklung des Fotograms, Stadt Museum, München & Universität Kassel, D. Lensless Photography, The Franklin Institute Science Museum, Philadelphia, USA (Idem New York)
1984 Some Photographic Uses of Colour, Brown University, Providence, USA. Subjektive Fotografie, Bilder des 50er Jahre, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA. Arts Plastiques et Musique, Office municipal de la Culture, Bourg-en-Bresse, F. L’Art et le Temps, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles
1985 Four Photographers, Benteler Galleries, Houston, Texas, USA. L’Autoportrait à l’âge de la photographie, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, CH. Signes et Ecritures, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Bruxelles. Art et Musique, Château Malou, Bruxelles. Fondation Veranneman, Kruishoutem, B
1986 Les traces de Tintin dans l’imaginaire, Maison de la Culture, Tournai, B. Benteler Galleries, Houston, Texas, USA. 50 Jahre Moderne Farbfotografie 1939-1986, Photokina, Köln, D
1987 Photographs beget photographs, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, USA. Photogrammes, 1918 jusqu’à nos jours, Goethe-Institute, München (Id.Europe)
1988 Naissance d’une collection, Fondation Van Gogh, Arles
1989 Materia Prima, Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain, Marseille, F. Das Foto als autonomes Bild. Experimentelle Gestaltung 1839-1989, Kunsthalle, Bielefeld, D
1990 Tire la langue ou les irréguliers du langage, Beaunord, Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Paris (Idem Bruxelles, Dunkerque, Séville) Images inventées: la photographie créative belge dans les années’50, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris
1991 Otto Steinert und Schüler, Fotografie und Ausbildung 1948 bis 1978, Museum Folkwang, Essen, D
La photographie belge. Des origines à nos jours, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, F
1992 Les Mots et les Images dans l’Art belge , MUHKA, Antwerpen, B. Denis Brihat et ses amis: Jean-Pierre Sudre, Jerry Uelsman et Pierre Cordier, Galerie de la Gare, Bonnieux, Vaucluse, F. Première Photo, Galerie du Jour-Agnès B, Paris (Idem Angers, F, Bucarest, R)
1993 A la recherche du Père, Espace Photographique, Paris. Jorge Luis Borges, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
1994 La Ville, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
1995 Europa nach der Flu. Kunst 1945-1965, Barcelona, Wien. La fotografia contemporanea dalla collezione Helmut Gernsheim, Ikona Photo Gallery, Venezia. Classe des Beaux-Arts de l’Académie Royale de Belgique, Palais des Académies, Bruxelles
1996 4th Studio UNESP of Image Technology, Sao Paulo, BR. La Ville moderne en Europe, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Galerie Martagon, Malaucène, Vaucluse, F
1997 Autoportraits, Galerie Municipale du Château d’Eau, Toulouse, F. Du Papyrus au Livre et à Internet, Palais des Princes-Évêques, Liège, B. Self-Portrait, Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, USA. Art & Techno, Tecno Belgium, Bruxelles (25 ans de la Galerie de Prêt d’Œuvres d’Art)
1999 Liberté, libertés chéries ou l’art comme résistance à l’art, Le Botanique, Bruxelles. Abstraktion in der Fotografie, Galerie Poller, Frankfurt am Main, D
2000 Bruxelles, une ville en Photographie, le Botanique, Bruxelles
2001 Abstrakte Fotografie seit 1950, Galerie d’Art, Siegen, D. Shoes or no shoes ? Provinciaal Centrum voor Kunst en Cultuur,Gent, B. Le Numérique: nouveau médium de l’art, évolution, révolution ? , Galerie de Prêt d’Œuvres d’Art, Bruxelles
2002 Ce qui a été (fragments) / La Disparition , Troisième Biennale de la Photographie, Liège, B
2003 Collection de photographies du Musée Réattu, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, F Abstractions, un siècle d’art abstrait en Wallonie et à Bruxelles, Le Botanique, Bruxelles. Un monde non-objectif en photographie, galerie Thessa Herold, Paris. Fokus Mensch, Photo Sammlung Helmut Gernsheim, Museen Mannheim, D
2004 André Balthazar, l’air de rien, Musée Ianchelevici, La Louvière, B. Une vie de photographes, Jean Dieuzaide, le Château d’Eau, Toulouse,F. La photographie écrite 1950-2005, Passage de Retz, Paris
2005 XL : 40 ans du Musée Réattu, Arles. Belgische Fotografen 1840 – 2005, FotoMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, B. I maestri della fotografia, Peggy Guggenheim Fondation, Fondation 3M, Venise. Néon "30 années lumière", Galerie Cap d’Art, Genval, B. Konkrete Fotografie, Museum im Kulturspeicher, Würzburg, D. Infiltrations,Centre culturel, Walcourt, B
2006 Photomania, Galerie Tessa Herold, Paris. Bildsysteme / Konkrete Fotografie, Kunstverein Oerlinghausen, D. 16.Gmundner Symposium für Aktuelle Kunst, Konkrete Fotografie, Gmunden, A
Un monde non-objectif en photographie, II, Galerie Tessa Herold, Paris
2008 Cobra passages, Collection Thomas Neirynck, BAM, Mons, B- Livres # Artistes, Musée royal de Mariemont, Morlanwelz, B
2010-11 'Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography', Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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