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Matthew (Matt) Bakkom

 (born 1968)
Matthew (Matt) Bakkom is active/lives in Minnesota, New York / France.  Matthew Bakkom is known for conceptual, installation sculpture, audio, dioramas, photography, teaching.

Matthew (Matt) Bakkom

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following review was in the Variety section of StarTribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, November 9, 2010

A night at the museum
Artist Matthew Bakkom gives the Bell Museum's dioramas a film-noir twist.


Cubist painter Georges Braque once said that art was meant to disturb us, science to reassure us.

But Minneapolis artist Matthew Bakkom thinks art and science are more friends than enemies, and has blended them perfectly at the Bell Museum. Also surreally and absurdly.

For the first in a series of Thursday night socials at the Natural History Museum on the University of Minnesota campus, Bakkom paired snippets of dialogue from a classic film with some of the Bell's habitat dioramas.  Weird, sure, but the playful ploy was also a clever way to spark renewed appreciation for these still-life animal scenes, the fusty great-grandparents of modern museums' interactive exhibits and sophisticated animation.

Just for the night, lines from the script of the 1947 Robert Mitchum movie Out of the Past were posted on illuminated signs next to the dioramas installed along darkened hallways, lending a noir-ish effect with both words and ambience.

"Adding quick, cutting repartee seemed like a fun way to bring drama to a tight environment," Bakkom said. "I call it a didactic intervention -- make a few little adjustments, and they really come to life."

Indeed. If you used your imagination, walking from one scene to the next, munching on the popcorn provided, felt like watching a trailer for Night at the Museum 3: When Animals Talk Tough.

"You weren't ever married before, were you?" a male big-horned mountain sheep asked a female lounging on a crag. "Not that I can remember," she said, without breaking her far-off gaze.

Viewer takeaway: That is one world-weary lady.

"Is there a way to win?" wondered a wide-eyed white-tailed deer. "There is a way to lose more slowly," replied its older, wiser chum.

Takeaway: How fatalistic -- must be hunting season.

"You're no good and neither am I," one migrating goose told another. "That's why we deserve each other."

Takeaway: Those two snowbirds are running from more than the weather.

"Dioramas might seem obsolete, but they actually have rich narratives behind them," he said.

"Like anything else, who you're looking at it with affects how you see it."

In other words, perfect for a combo art installation/social event. The Bell doesn't have the budget or high-tech trappings of larger, better-known institutions. Its expansion plans are on hold for lack of funding. But this little museum does have more than 4 million specimens, photos and vintage documentary films, along with a history of coming up with creative ways to attract visitors.

Like the debut event featuring Bakkom's art, three more socials to be held over the rest of this school year will include music and short presentations on related topics given by scientists, in a come-and-go atmosphere (and a beer and wine cart).

A 2008 Bush Fellow, Bakkom has had work shown at Walker Art Center and museums in New York and Paris. The night of the social, he also set a slide show about explorer and botanist Ned Huff to live music.

He sees the quest of discovery as the greatest commonality between art and science. "As an artist working in a science museum you have a context of stability and order, but you add your own creative flourish, one that gives the audience the sense that they've found something, too."

Staring so long at dioramas makes you wonder: "Why don't they rot or crumble into dust after 50 years or so?"

For the answer to that, we turn to Don Luce, curator of exhibits for the past 32 years: durable beeswax and an airtight, dry environment. Luce's belief that dioramas still have a place in the modern museum is based on more than nostalgic fondness.

"They've been considered static and old-fashioned since the 1960s," he said.

"They're also criticized for giving a false, nuclear-family impression of animals. But most of ours are better at getting the biology right. They're very accurate reproductions. And watching kids spot the little hidden chipmunk or bird warms my heart. Kids so often don't see the things they want to on actual nature walks because they're too loud and don't know how to look."

Biography from the Archives of askART
The following, submitted November 2005, is from the artist.

Born in Minneapolis, Matthew Bakkom, the son of designer and painter James Bakkom, has produced and screened numerous experimental documentary films in festivals and other showcases such as "The Black Maria Film/Video Festival" in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1996, and "Independent Feature Project North Showcase," at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1999.  In 2003, he began a teaching assignment in sculpture in the Art Department of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

In the 1990s, Bakkom worked in New York City as a conceptual artist, devoting his career to the creation and direction of collaborative organizations focused on events, films, and actions.  Such groups include The New Kinomatagraphic Union, 1992, and The Society for Collective Investigation, 1998.

In 2000, his major exhibition was Recorded At, which consisted of three listening stations he installed around the Queen's Museum of Art's "Panorama of the City of New York."  This original work, a monumental and physical attempt to depict the city, is a scale model of the city's five boroughs.  It was designed by city planner, Robert Moses, as a major attraction for the 1964-65 World's Fair.  The job took more than one-hundred workers three years to construct and occupies over 9,000 square feet.

Feeling that the "Panorama" captured only the visual impact of the city, Bakkom decided that the way to reanimate its power was to communicate the vibrancy of New York with sound, that is in his words capturing "the energy of the people who make New York City so incredible.  I trekked all around the five boroughs to collect the pulse of the city; the sound of human voices, the sound of mahjong in a park, the sound of barking dogs, the sound of a sidewalk conveyer belt.  With this piece I am trying to import these organic elements into the clean architectural space of the Panorama... It is a conceptual approach to sculpture" and opens up sculpture to human activity.

At each of the three stations, Bakkom installed a CD with fifty-eight tracks of his personally recorded site-specific sounds combined with historic and contemporary music, and excerpts from the original voiceover used in the Panorama's premiere in 1964 and 1965.  With these additions of sound, Bakkom has taken the original function of the art work to a new dimension to express his appreciation of the differing dynamics of the boroughs.

In late summer of 2000, the Brooklyn Museum made Bakkom's audio, Recorded At, a permanent part of the original Panorama.

In 1991, he earned his B.A. in Political and Social Thought from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and from 1989 to 1999, participated as a studio artist in the Whitney Independent Study Program.  He has had several other solo exhibitions including "The Society for Collective Investigation, Project Space II -Artists Space" in New York, 1999, and "The Intimacy Machine," Rare Gallery in New York, 2000.


During his time in the World Views program, Matthew brought other World Views residents, LMCC Staff and guests together in the studios to experience a series of films projected onto a screen surrounded by the lights of the city far below. The screenings were truly magical, generous, innovative, and explored the notion of art as intervention in social space.

Over the course of the most recent residency on the 91st floor I was able to successfully resolve a longstanding issue. How can motion pictures evolve into the sculptural medium? Solutions to questions like these are rarely definitive but I was blessed with promising leads. By April, I had completed a series of vessels, developed an installation strategy in A Rough Plan for The New City and had shared the delights of 1 World Trade Cinema, with my esteemed colleagues.



Matthew Bakkom was awarded a Rema Hort Mann Foundation grant for young artists in January 2004.

Source: ARTnews, February 2004

Biography from the Archives of askART
From The New York Times, Sunday, December 2, 2001

Amid the tawdry, the Tacky (and Worse),
One Man Hawks history From a Pushcart

Amid a sea of pirated compact discs, fake Fendi bags and widgets of dubious function, here is a lone man, pushing his shopping cart along Canal Street, selling a commodity that has no price: history.

The sight of the man has perplexed fellow hawkers, who scrape a living from $3 belts and $5 terrapins. To them, he is not a worthy competitor, but a pitiful curiosity in the cutthroat flea market that is Canal Street.

"I've discovered a new hot spot," said Matthew Bakkom, standing at Canal and Lafayette Streets on a recent afternoon. His cart was stuffed with newsletters, pencils and white T-shirts that read, "Canal Street Historical Society." Prices were optional.

A young woman selling hip-hop CD's eyed his wares from a distance. "That's the initial dance of information," said Mr. Bakkom, 32, his hair spiked like a mad scientist's. "They want to know what I am selling. I'm peddling ideas."

The Historical Society, if one man can be a society, serves up bite-size nuggets about the street's unchecked past, its place in the imagination.

"Everything is here, from fish to diamonds," Mr. Bakkom said of the street. "But after a moment of reflection, it became obvious that this engine of commerce also created a vacuum of history."

So when Art in General, a nonprofit gallery at 79 Walker Street, approached Mr. Bakkom last year about creating a public artwork on Canal Street, he immediately seized on the idea of a pushcart. "History on Canal Street is just another product," he said. "Like incense and turtles." Not everyone was buying, least of all passers-by who could not grasp what he was pushing.

"Maybe he's a psycho," said Ali Jalal, a Palestinian immigrant who sells perfume from a storefront at 272 Canal Street. "But he's a smart guy. He's not a dumb guy. You see, he just made a sale."

When a visitor explained that the T-shirts were a way of publicizing history, Mr. Jalal was not impressed. "Nobody cares here about that stuff, " he said. "Everyone here cares about money."

The same could be said of New York. But Canal Street, with its raw tangled stalls, is more a breathing testament to the capitalist ideal, where today's catch can compete with yesterday's junk.

Still, despite its many faces, or maybe because of them, Canal Street lacks a memory. But at least until February, Mr. Bakkom will be out there as its self-appointed guardian, hawking its past.

Biography from the Archives of askART
From The New York Times, February 15, 2010, NY Region section:

This week, Matthew Bakkom, the editor and creator of "New York City Museum of Complaint," a collection of 132 letters written to the mayor of New York from 1751 to 1969, will be responding to readers' questions about communiques of dissatisfaction over the course of the city's evolution.

Readers who would like to ask Mr. Bakkom a question should do so in the comments box below. His first set of responses will appear on Wednesday.

Selected from the municipal archives and presented chronologically, the letters in "The New York City Museum of Complaint" address a range of issues, from dead animals in the street to swindles, capitalism, corruption, civil rights, adventuresses, bad luck, broken hearts, noise and other people. These are the core strength of this collection lies in its peculiar ability to capture the spirit of the city as defined by its critics and crusaders.

New York City has long been perceived as a place where personal stances flourish.  These civic documents are historical embodiments of the language, wit and energy that have forged the city's reputation. From the passionate defense of street musicians to dedicated battles with dry cleaners, police officers, pushcart peddlers and hooligans, a chorus emerges that articulates the challenges and inherent absurdity of metropolitan life.

Mr. Bakkom was born in Minneapolis in 1968.  Starting in the early 1990s, he worked as a visual artist in North America and Europe, participating in exhibitions at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Queens Museum of Art in New York.

Mr. Bakkom has received awards of support from the Jerome Foundation, the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the Mayor's Cultural Affairs Office in Paris. The investigation of civic archives often serves as the basis for his work.

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About  Matthew (Matt) Bakkom

Born:  1968 - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Known for:  conceptual, installation sculpture, audio, dioramas, photography, teaching