Waldemar Cordeiro: A Singular Constellation | Mayor Gallery

There are just 16 works on show in this exhibition, but they lightly cover an exceptional career. Waldemar Cordeiro was initially an important member of the Brazilian art concret movement of the 1950s - the same group featured so heavily in the midcentury Brazilian art show I featured on here a few weeks back. He produced some woozily impressionistic, tropically-coloured oil paintings in the 60s. Then, in the few years leading up to his early death in 1973, he was an early pioneer of computer generated art.

It’s this last group, surprising and fascinating, printed out on frowsy, browning computer paper with punch holes up the sides, that most grabbed my attention. The standout of these is The Woman who is not BB, from 1971 and pictured below.

Waldemar Cordeiro ‘The Woman who is not BB’ (1971)

You could say Cordeiro was an artistic radical throughout his life. He was helped by his milieu: the rigorous modernism of art concret, with its loops and grids, was applied especially uncompromisingly in Brazil. Coredeiro himself called the São Paulo group of artists he was involved with Ruptura. A break with the past.

He first got involved with the radically new medium of computer art with the mainframe IBM system in the physics department of the city university: one of the first such machines in Brazil. Using code, he fed in photographs, and printed out the computer-generated output, with its binary runes, its Xes and Os, making the image harder to parse, but lending it something new and strange.

Artists like Gerhard Richter and Wade Guyton are doing the same sort of digital remixing, decades later. But Cordeiro can claim to be a pioneer, here.

The backstory behind The Woman who is not BB highlights the image’s antiquity. BB is Brigitte Bardot. The source image is a distressed Vietnamese girl, in wartime. The references, then, are 50 years old. But it all must have seemed so new at the time.

Waldemar Cordeiro: A Singular Constellation is at the Mayor Gallery (London). 30 May - 26 July 2024