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February 7, 2008 to May 18, 2008

Gijs Bakker and Jewelry

Gijs Bakker and Jewelry was organized by SM’s--Stedelijk Museum s’Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. The exhibition brought together over 100 pieces of jewelry designed by Gijs Bakker from the SM’s own permanent collection as well as private collectors, and each series was showcased in custom displays designed by Aldo Bakker. Presented at SM’s in the fall of 2005, the show was since seen in Oostende at PMMK, Museum voor Moderne Kunst and in Munich at Die neue Sammlung. The Philadelphia Art Alliance was its only U.S. destination.

Designer Gijs Bakker (b. 1942) is considered to be a pioneer in the field of jewelry design. Trained as a jewelry designer at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, the discipline of jewelry design has always remained the ‘core-business’ in Bakker’s career. He quickly made his mark on the development of jewelry design in the Netherlands. Initially working with Emmy van Leersum (1930-1984), he wrested jewelry from its purely decorative status and gave it a meaningful place in the world of art and design. His attention to the concept and intrinsic meaning of jewelry has remained a constant factor in his oeuvre and a review of his work in the last 50 years produces a fascinating survey that can be read as a cultural diary. As a portrait of an era, Bakker’s work expresses a critical undertone that stems from an engagement with various art movements such as Minimalism, Conceptual Art, and Pop Art. It is telling that Bakker seldom designs a single piece of jewelry but virtually always produces a series in which one idea is developed in different ways. This is sometimes a formal starting point, as in the series of aluminum jewelry (1967-71). Most of his work, however, is based on a theme, such as the enormous neck jewelry comprising laminated photographs of regally worn necklaces (“Queens” series, 1977), the series of brooches combining photos of sports celebrities with precious stones (Sportsfigures series 1986-1988), or the ‘Holy Sport’ (1998) and the “I Don’t Wear Jewels, I Drive Them” (2001) series.


The Liberating Form 1963-1973

Beginning with his earliest designs, Bakker felt compelled to push against the weight of the craft tradition. His earliest experiments. such as Gouden ui (1965) represent an attempt to seize control of the materials and force it into almost impossible forms. It was through this intimate knowledge of the possibilities of a particular medium, that he--as well as a group of colleagues that included Emmy van Leersum, Nicholaas van Beek, Francoise van den Bosch and Bernard Lameris—could liberate jewelry from its roots in craft and consider it an equal to other disciplines in the fine arts. Work from this period refocused on creating a harmonious form related to the body but created out of pure necessity. This paralleled the principles behind the abstract geometric formal style that dominated Dutch painting during this period, but Bakker’s designs were confined to melding form and function—that is, as an object to be worn. This separated his work from the mediums of painting and sculpture. It was during this period, that Bakker created large collars such as Stovepipe Necklace (1967) as well as Neck Ornament/Shoulder Piece (1967). The use of industrial materials used in these works served to emphasize the relationship between body and form, ultimately undermining the traditional preconceptions of jewelry as ornament or as a precious object.

The Medium is the message 1976-1983

By the mid-1970s, Bakker’s interest in geometric form evolved into a sole interest in the individual to determine the form of the object. Beginning with his Shadow Jewelry (1973), Bakker eventually turned to unique features such as the profile as the source for the form of his designs. For Profile Necklace, and his series of Profile Brooches, the object could only be worn by one individual, again questioning the purpose and function of jewelry and its relationship to the wearer. The same principle also directed the production of Bib/Slab (1976), where a black and white photograph of the wearer’s chest was printed on a piece of fabric and worn around the neck like a baby’s bib. For Bakker, these were forms that not only stressed the individual but the wearer’s physical identity. Influenced by the work of Bruce Naumann which Bakker saw in the 1977 Documenta, his work in this period sought to counter collectivist spirit of the preceding decade. Taking an almost aggressive stance, his “Queens” series of laminated photographs of necklaces mocked the ritualistic and charming aspects of jewelry, evoking the relative value of that which is real verses that which is imitated by substituting actual jewels for an inexpensive facsimile.

Reconsiliation and Virtuosity: 1985 to the present

After the death of his wife, Emmy van Leersum in 1984 came the appearance of three series brooches and necklaces employing the laminated photograph as part of the work. In Bakker’s “Sportsfigure” brooches, the artist appropriates a banal subject of mass culture such as sports and combines the image with precious stones or metals. This interest in the human body in motion combined with art history eventually led to such necklaces as Adam (1988), and Titiaan (David) (1987). In a third series “Bouquet Brooches”, the real beauty of the stone is mounted in the false splendor of a bouquet of flowers depicted in a picture postcard.

Simultaneous with this continuous use of basic materials and mundane subjects was a return to his earlier investigations of form from the early 1970s. Influenced by the ways that digital technologies were being employed in the field of architecture and design, his research into the removal of material while retaining its structure eventually led to his “Shot” bracelets. For this series, the motion of the objects creation is imitated through the form. The bullets are shoot into a sphere from different angles, creating holes in the surface and bulges on the edges. These works require modeling through a computer program as well as a mechanical mastery of creating the perfect mould in which to cast the form.

Despite this short return to technique and form, 1998 marked a return to subjects of mass culture and consumerism. In Bakker’s “Holysport” series, he replaced the head and arms of Christ with that of a famous soccer star, thus comparing sports with religion. In his series “I Don’t Wear Jewels, I Drive Them,” huge precious stones are set into photographs of luxury cars. More sardonic, yet more subtle in their messages, these two series reflect the culmination of Bakker’s attitude to jewelry both conceptually and through the tangible form.

Ultimately Bakker’s constant drive to revitalize his work does not just have a passive, uncontrollable influence on the professional field of jewelry. In co-founding the Chi Ha Paura…? Foundation, which is solely dedicated to jewelry, he deliberately created a framework in which he challenges other designers and artists to produce new ideas, materials, and techniques.

From the outset Bakker’s work has attracted international attention and it is found in numerous public and private collections. Previous publications about his work, such as Gijs Bakker Ontwerper - Solo voor een solist (Gijs Bakker Designer - Solo for a soloist) and Objects to use’ examine his influence and work as a designer and founder of Droog Design. Both the exhibition and the catalog, Gijs Bakker and Jewelry is the first comprehensive overview of his jewelry. The catalog has become a standard reference that includes an extensive introduction by Ida van Zijl, a complete overview of his oeuvre to date, and a biography of Bakker with a complete bibliography.

Tags: jewelry, metals, mixed media