Celebrating one and a half jubilee.
Shortly after finishing his training as a jewelry maker, in the social heat of the 60’s, Gijs Bakker implemented his freshly acquired skills in a subversive, questioning and self-examining practice. Against establishment, against conventions, against traditions, together with his wife Emmy van Leersum and a group of like-minded fellow jewelers from all over Europe, they initiated a true revolution in jewelry, shifting the notions of value.
In 1967 Gijs and Emmy organized a jewelry/fashion show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It was an utterly bold statement and a breakthrough. Mingling jewelry with fashion, performance and body art, Bakker and Van Leersum extracted jewelry from its deadly velvet-lined cases, and impacted lastingly the jewelry world. In his early works, Gijs Bakker tackled the traditional understanding of jewelry by focusing on two aspects: questioning the material and re-defining the relationship to the body. Material wise, he embraced the subversiveness of his time and flipped seemingly static rules: Jewelry could be made of anything; the qualities of the material could determine the shape of the outcome. Ideas of intrinsic value and heritage were challenged.
In 1986 he wrote a manifesto with a major statement: “I dislike jewelry”. Rejecting compromises in his jewelry practice, but keeping up with his icebreaker position in the contemporary jewelry scene, Bakker developed numerous jewelry works, playing with and often mocking contemporary icons: cars, religion, football, royalty, gemstones… while making a signature of his use of laminated newspaper cutouts.
His parallel career as an industrial designer has been a complementary media and outlet to his ideas. Partnership with industries gave him the freedom to scale up his production and sometimes let go of some of the rigid set of rules he set himself up in his jewelry practice. In 1993 he co-founded Droog Design, a collective of designers driven by ideals of new standards, producing objects, concepts and information. Based in Amsterdam, providing the design scene with a new agenda, the designer with new responsibilities and the consumer with new options, the collective snowballed and its ideas quickly spread. The exigency, wittiness and avant-gardism of their collections and of their statements made Droog Design become one of the most influential design institutions at the turn of the century.
Conjointly, teacher at heart, Bakker has for 40 years taught generations of international students to dislike and to be disliked, to stand up for their opinions, to take no rule for granted and to fight conventions. His teaching years at the Design Academy Eindhoven left an imprint still distinguishable in today’s active designers pool.
In 2012 Bakker went from disliking and denouncing to praising and paying homage. In his brooch series “Go for Gold”, following up the “Sportsfigures” series of the 90’s, he is adorning by admiring. Gold and titanium brooches featuring the faces of glorified sportsmen are a treat for both the represented and the wearer.
On the occasion of his jubilee-and-a-half exhibition opening March 2017 “Black to White”, the eponymous necklace is a tribute to bold / bald personalities which, in their time and throughout their career stood for a cause, fought for their convictions and kept their integrity in their respective fields of action. The brooch “Self-Portrait” representing the artist, bald, chiseled in an aureole-like gold disc, suggests a level of identification with these personalities.
Still challenging our understanding of jewelry and our sets of values, his “3 Point 7” and “4 Point 3” necklaces literally weigh up gold, jade, crystal, resin, aluminum, plastic... Made of these materials, each link of the necklaces are of the same weight therefore their sizes vary, shifting the scales of visual importance and intrinsic value of the traditional jewelry materials and the non-precious ones.
Throughout his career Bakker has actualized his skillset and in his new works he is frequently involving computer-based technologies when it contributes to push further the limits of the making and to keep jewelry as relevant contemporary conveyors to comment on today’s society.
And, with a wink and as for proving his constancy, the exhibition includes the famous and timeless “I dislike jewelry” manifesto that Bakker has embedded in his gold “QR brooch”.
Willingly or not he can enjoy the fruits of decades of irreverence, stubbornness, and incessant self-actualization. Although his revolutionary manifestos have become acceptable contemporary standards, time hasn't smoothened his convictions to fight against bourgeoisie and establishment.
One can simply admire the persistence of a person dedicating his life to a discipline he claimed to dislike. And one shall simply understand that Gijs Bakker is turning seventy-five, not turning the page.
Charlotte Dumocel d'Argence ©Caroline Van Hoek Gallery 2017