SuB-K, Stichting Utrechtse Beeldende Kunst (Foundation for Visual Arts) in Utrecht, BAK’s predecessor, was established in 1989 in response to the need to support the artistic climate of the city of Utrecht. In 1994, suB-K moved to the ground floor of a former music school on Lange Nieuwstraat 2–4 in Utrecht, and the art center BeganeGrond (Ground Floor) was founded. Between 1994–2000, changing groups of artists programmed exhibitions and a series of theoretical and performative encounters were organized on a regular basis.
In 2000 the artists’ initiative, having appointed a new artistic director, Maria Hlavajova, started reorientating its conceptual framework to initiate theoretical considerations into the form that the ideal contemporary art institution could become, and how this could respond to the challenges that art practices now present. Parallel to this, the BAC’s building went through a major reconstruction process to expand from the ground floor of Lange Nieuwstraat 2, to occupy the entire building at number 4.
In 2003 BeganeGrond became BAK, basis voor actuele kunst.
BAK, basis voor actuele kunst serves as a public site for criticality and dialogue. As a “space for art and thinking,” it is defined by participation, discursivity, production, flexibility, fluidity, and criticality, and as such is invested in two vital relationships; the link between art and the public sphere, and the alliance between artistic practice and theory.
To investigate BAC's core concerns, long-term, multidisciplinary projects are realized within which exhibitions, publications, and discursive programs are of equal importance. Each project, responds to the urgencies both in art and the realms of politics and society, and is thus geared towards opening a space where new imaginaries can emerge.
Most outstanding projects in recent years:
BAK presents approximately 4-5 exhibitions and one large-scale, multifaceted project each year.
Solo exhibitions by Rabih Mroué, Lawrence Weiner, Mona Vătămanu & Florin Tudor, Aernout Mik, and Sanja Iveković (among others).
FORMER WEST, international research, publishing, education, and exhibition project, 2009–2013.
The Return of Religion and Other Myths, exhibition, lecture series, and critical reader, 2008–2009.
Citizens and Subjects, Dutch contribution to the Venice Biennale (three-part project: exhibition and architectural intervention in the Dutch Pavilion by Aernout Mik, a critical reader, and lecture and discussion series in Utrecht, 2007.
Concerning War, 2005–2006, a three-part project comprised of an exhibition (Soft Target. War as a Daily, First-Hand Reality), discourse series (Undercurrents), and the first BAK Critical Reader, Concerning War, 2006, 2nd edition released 2010.
Long-term, multifaceted projects take place annually, consisting of a research trajectory focused on a key subject at play in both contemporary art and contemporary society. Each project elaborates on significant analysis and engages in the production of knowledge on the subject at hand through artistic and intellectual contributions. Typically these projects result in diverse elements of public programming that include, but are not limited to formats such as; exhibitions, discursive programs, and publications.
An example of such an undertaking is the project FORMER WEST, realized in collaboration with an international consortium of art and educational institutions. FORMER WEST is a long-term international research, education, publishing, and exhibition project (2009–2013). It aims at a critical reinterpretation of our recent, post-1989 history, and casts new light on contemporary art in relation to developments in society and politics. Looking at the notion of “former West,” the project establishes a radical proposition for a new understanding of, and speculation about, global futures through contemporary artistic practices. In addition to the complex entanglements of various research undertakings within the projects, (which include seminars, symposia, various educational modules, research exhibitions, and a dedicated research specific library), the project is organized around five FORMER WEST research congresses (taking place annually in various international locations), a major international exhibition (2013), and a landmark publication (critical reader).
Both BAK and the FORMER WEST project’s online presence provide unique access to the knowledge produced through the activities of BAK, as well as rich archive of video resources that chronicles all its activities.
BAK presents 17+ lectures and/or seminars, 2 publications, several educational activities and international presentations each year.
BAK’s approach to educational programming is unique in that it is not intended to (solely) supplement exhibitions, rather, it is of equal importance within the overall BAK program and is opposed to common hierarchies whereby exhibitions command the central focus. The extensive range of public and academic programs that BAK organizes aim to develop distinct perspectives of criticality vis-à-vis the issues of urgency, in both art and society. Activities that fall under this educational platform include lectures, seminars, symposia, workshops, and publications.
A new addition to the public education strand, BAK Questions is a series of monthly sessions of a peer group of artists, curators, art critics, writers along with international artists and thinkers engaged in various BAK activities. The program revolves around simple, yet difficult-to-answer questions related to contemporary art such as; What is contemporary art?, or What makes art political? The series taps into the rich and reflective process-based research potential generated at BAK (which risks remaining invisible to the public), and offers unique possibilities for the mutual exchange of ideas and positions in a dynamic setting.
BAK has developed vital links to academia, including a number of education modules at art academies and universities in a various countries. Most prominent of these is the Masters program at Utrecht University, “Curating (Beyond) Exhibition-Making”, taught by BAK artistic staff and research fellows. The course explores the notions of social and political responsibility of art in exhibitions and other activities.
BAK holds approximately 20 educational activities each year.
Key to the education, discourse-driven, and knowledge producing aims of its program, BAK produces a select but diverse range of publications on its long-term projects, exhibitions, and discourse programs. These include artists’ books, books documenting projects, and the BAK Critical Reader Series of text-based publications; a collection of newly commissioned and anthologized texts written by artists, writers, theorists and others taking up urgent topics.
In addition, both the BAK and the FORMER WEST websites are key sites for publishing activities, offering valuable resources and bibliographies related to all its research programs. These also function as key educational platforms and experience extensive usage worldwide.
BAK has a 210 m2 gallery space, divided over ground and first floor, 35 m2 library and workshop/meeting room on the second floor.
BAK has two permanent Research-in-Residence studios for living and working in the city center of Utrecht. Committed to being flexible and responsive to the demands of artistic practice and the discourses BAK engages with, BAK's projects and activities are often not bound to its concrete physical space, but realized off-site. Such activities are often the result of national or international collaborations with like-minded individuals and institutions active in the international contemporary art field.