UMFA’s “salt” Exhibition Explores Smithson Library

Salt Lake City – The personal library of Spiral Jetty creator Robert Smithson is the subject of a new exhibition opening Friday, September 12, at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA). salt 10: Conrad Bakker is the tenth show in the UMFA’s salt series of exhibitions by emerging international contemporary artists. The Canadian artist will discuss his work at the UMFA Thursday, September 11 at 5 pm.

Conrad Bakker (Canadian, born 1970, lives Urbana, Ill.), Untitled Project: Robert Smithson's Library [Crystals Diamonds and  Transistors], 2010. Oil paint on carved wood. Courtesy the artist.

Conrad Bakker (Canadian, born 1970, lives Urbana, Ill.),
Untitled Project: Robert Smithson’s Library [Crystals Diamonds and
Transistors], 2010. Oil paint on carved wood. Courtesy the artist.

Bakker’s hand-carved and painted wood sculptures of everyday objects—imprecise, to-scale replicas of objects like books, photographs, chairs, and motorcycles—reveal and critique the relationships between people and things, and investigate the creation of value and economic systems. Bakker’s UMFA show, the first exhibition of new work from his ongoing series Untitled Project: Robert Smithson’s Library and Book Club, mirrors the aesthetics of a library with objects based on books from Smithson’s collection.

“Bakker continually revisits the book as form in his work, exploring how books function as a containers of content. Even without being read, books say something about their owners,” says Whitney Tassie, curator of modern and contemporary art. “This interest led Bakker to study Smithson’s oft-cited library catalog of more than one thousand volumes. Since the two artists share a deep interest in materiality, in the physicality of art, it makes sense that Bakker responded to the catalog in this way.”

Bakker often inserts his handmade facsimiles into the commercial realms of their real commodity counterparts, which circumvents the art market, challenges postmodern perceptions of authorship and authenticity and questions the distinction between originality and appropriation.

As part of the UMFA show, Bakker will create and sell a duplicate set of objects from the Smithson library project. Visitors to can view each book sculpture and may join the Robert Smithson Book Club by purchasing one object for $100. Bakker will then remake the selected “book” and ship the second copy to the new member. In return, the member must upload a photograph of the object in his or her hands to Bakker’s website.

About the Artist

Conrad Bakker has exhibited his work nationally and internationally at institutions—the Tate Modern (London), Galerie Analix Forever (Geneva), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), the Renaissance Society (Chicago), Fargfabriken Center for Contemporary Art and Architecture (Stockholm), the Blanton Museum of Art (Austin), and the Des Moines Art Center, among others—in mailboxes and on his own front lawn. His work has been reviewed or showcased in a variety of publications, including ArtWorld, artUS, Art Papers, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Contemporary, Flash Art, Artforum online, Sculpture, Dwell, and ReadyMade.

Bakker is a recipient of a Creative Capital Foundation project grant and an Illinois Arts Council Grant. He is an associate professor in studio art and assistant director of graduate studies for the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign.

This exhibition is supported by the UMFA Friends of Contemporary Art (FoCA). For more information about the salt series, please visit