Nicole Pollentier is a writer and curator who is currently completing her Master’s degree in Curatorial Studies from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York. Her MA curatorial project, entitled Degrees North: Six Artists and the Icelandic Landscape, includes work by Birgir Andrésson, Douwe Jan Bakker, Hreinn Friðfinnsson, Kristján Guðmundsson, Sigurður Guðmundsson, and Magnús Pálsson. She previously received a Master’s degree in Fine Arts/Creative Writing from San Francisco State University in
During my Research-in-Residence at BAK,basis voor actuele kunst, I researched the work of the Dutch Conceptual artist, Douwe Jan Bakker. I first learned about Bakker through researching the work of the Icelandic artist, Birgir Andrésson. In an essay, I read that Birgir considered Bakker to be his mentor. In Utrecht, I began asking about Bakker’s work and discovered that he was not often discussed in contemporary circles. I started looking for publications about his work, and found that the Centraal Museum had published a book about a piece of Bakker’s called A Vocabulary Sculpture in the Icelandic Landscape (1975). This book was in the collection of an art book dealer named Andre Swertz, who very conveniently lived in Utrecht and quite by coincidence had purchased Bakker’s “library” (the books that had been on the shelves in his studio) when he died. Going through this box of books, I was surprised to find that most of them were by or about Icelandic artists, some handmade, and many printed at Jan van Eyck Academy. Further investigation revealed that Bakker had been a tutor at Jan van Eyck, where he worked with Birgir Andrésson and became acquainted with the community of Icelandic artists who had moved to the Netherlands in the 1970s, including Sigurður Guðmundsson, his brother Kristján Guðmundsson, and Hreinn Friðfinnsson. Soon, Bakker began traveling to Iceland, and the Icelandic language and landscape became dominant forces in his work.
Bakker was included in the Dutch Pavilion for the 1978 Venice Biennale, in a group exhibition called Nature Art, commissioned by Gijs van Tuyl (now the Director of the Stedelijk Museum). He was also included in several other group shows in the 1970s and was the subject of a retrospective at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague in 1996. However, since his death in 1997, Bakker’s work has fallen into relative obscurity in the Netherlands, although it is still highly celebrated in Iceland.
My Research-in-Residence at BAK allowed me to gain direct access to Bakker’s library. Additionally, with the assistance of BAK artistic director Maria Hlavajova, I was able to meet with Gijs van Tuyl, who was the primary curator of Bakker’s work in the Netherlands in the 1970s. I also became acquainted with Jan Voss, owner of the artists’ book store Boekie Woekie in Amsterdam, who knew Bakker and many of the Icelandic artists in his circle. The work I did during my Research-in-Residence at BAK will support an exhibition I am developing, which will be on view in the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies galleries in the spring of 2008, in fulfillment of my master’s thesis.