Nienke Post is a modest but committed employee of Visual Arts & Public Space (BKOR). She is office manager, collection manager and source of information, responsible for the archive and the BKOR website and is aware of all works of art placed in Rotterdam that you may encounter on a city walk. Despite her artistic training, she does not consider herself an artist. But as a hardworking, subservient force, Post has been an indispensable link in art in public space for more than ten years. She loves the hidden gems in the city and is one of them herself. 'My heart goes out to precisely the works that you would not easily say are art with a capital A.'
In conversation with Nienke Post
Text: Annemiek van Grondel
Even though she didn't grow up in the port city, she fits in seamlessly. Because Nienke Post does not mince words and carries her heart on her tongue. She repeatedly shows that she has little interest in giving interviews. And that's not false modesty: she finds the idea of putting her work in the spotlight somewhat over the top and irrelevant. Now just let her be productive behind the scenes. Agreement. A not too exhaustive overview of Post's life and work, then, as a compromise.
Who is this outspoken, resolute but somewhat sheltered lady?
She saw the light in the dark December month of 1978 at the Havenziekenhuis. The girl had a quiet childhood in Krimpen aan den Lek, until she got a taste of the turbulent life at Comenius College in Capelle aan den IJssel. In those days she described herself as an art-loving 'alto' between scooter-riding and pill-swallowing gabbers. 'I was not so much village-oriented as Rotterdam-oriented,' says Post, who liked to soak up the cultural city life in her spare time.
Because she liked drawing, she decided to enroll at the Willem de Kooning Academy after high school, although she didn't have any exaggerated ambitions in that direction. 'I wasn't sure what to do and hung out more in the Rotterdam alternative music scene,' says Post. 'My friends were in bands and we went out a lot, especially to concerts in De Vlerk and Waterfront. I was not cut out for an autonomous artist, although I found art and cultural history interesting. In the fourth grade of the art academy you were allowed to go on exchange for a semester. I attended the Harrington Institute of Interior Design in Chicago with two classmates. One big adventure! We stayed in the Three Arts Club, a well-known building in the city for women working in music, painting and theater, hence “Three Arts”, and got to know each other and the city well.'
Coincidentally, she arrived in America one week before the infamous New York attacks. 'Our first day of school was on 9/11', says Post. “I remember a janitor in our class reporting the disaster. The fourth plane was then off the radar and the likely destination was the Sears Tower in Chicago. Everyone had to return home and walking through the city we saw the towers collapse on a TV set in the sports cafe. Then we quickly ran home.'
Once back in the Netherlands, Post did an internship at the interior department of EGM Architects in Dordrecht, a large office for draftsmen and architects, but she didn't feel at home there. "Too massive and stiff," she says. 'I came to the conclusion that interior architecture and design didn't suit me.'
The use of light and color in film sets was the more adventurous theme of her graduation design. 'In mafia movies like The Godfather en Goodfellas for example, the color red is often used as a symbol of danger', she explains. Her search for work offered less tension after her graduation in 2003. Challenging jobs in the art corner were not up for grabs, it turned out. After a few months assisting at an internet company and a location scouting agency, she joined Shop Around, a commercial creative agency specialized in illustration, animation and graphic design, in 2005 through a friend from the music scene. As a project manager she was a spider in the web between permanent employees, freelancers and clients. 'Over time, we received more and more orders for wall design and stickers, such as making prints on panels, walls or floors of schools or universities. But it was a very busy job that demanded a lot from me. I went on and on and finally got stressed in 2009," says Post, who worked in this position for several months after her recovery, but finally decided to throw in the towel. 'I ran into a bar. Not because the work was too commercial, but the constant deadlines and all the hassle broke me.'
Digging in the archive
Again, she rolled into a new job via-via and this time it was here to stay. At BKOR, a program of CBK Rotterdam, Post has been feeling like a fish in water for more than ten years now. As collection manager, she is responsible for the archive and the website bkor.nl. It now displays more than 650 works of art in Rotterdam, a number that continues to grow. Each work contains a general text, a short biography of the artist and some technical data. All those 650 works of art can be seen as dots on the map, showing how much art can be found in Rotterdam and where you can visit them. Post also meticulously keeps track of all documentation and newspaper clippings. The website has evolved into a database that contains a wealth of information about art in public space.
At BKOR, a program of CBK Rotterdam, Post has been feeling like a fish in water for over ten years now
'I knew nothing about visual art in public space', she admits. 'That meant doing a lot of research to find my way through the BKOR archive, which contains more than a thousand works of art. I found that fascinating. Among other things, I make presentations based on research and manage the thousands of photos from the archive. When I came to BKOR, there was little digital imagery. The old website had small pictures and no longer functioned properly. There was no well-organized structure for photos.'
Her knowledge and organizational skills gained at Shop Around came in handy when setting up a new database. Because over the years, there was an increasing demand for images and information about the city collection. Post: 'Even if a work of art has no title, we must be able to find all the specifications: who made it, what format is it, what is the year of origin, what material did the artist use? That can vary from a six meter high concrete work to a small bronze sculpture and everything in between.' BKOR is often approached when redesigning public space. 'In that case, images will temporarily go to the storage of the municipality,' she says. Together we then decide which new destination will be given to such a work. Then we will look for a suitable place. I participate in the consultations and assist the project leaders.'
The eye of Rotterdam
In the long time that Post has worked at BKOR, she has seen countless works of art. She also likes to suffer from professional deformity if she presents herself as a professional artistic tour guide during walks in the city with friends or family. 'Of course I know all the places in the city where the images we have placed are located', she says with a laugh. 'I often point this out to the group and tell a short story about it.'
My heart goes out to precisely the works that you would not easily say are art with a capital A. The underdogs of art
Like it Maas sculpture by Auke de Vries from 1982, popularly known as 'De Waslijn', near the new Willemsbrug. The cubist sculpture, consisting of shipping objects such as a ring, a box, a pennant and a hanging ball, runs from the bridge to a pillar of the old Railway Bridge and interacts with the environment and the elements.
Near the Central Station, she invariably draws her visitors' attention to the work of Louis van Roode on the western facade of the old Station Post Office. This self-titled work of art from 1959, consisting of abstract, decorative strips on concrete and 22 projecting stained-glass windows, embodies the then-in vogue integration between art and architecture. Post: 'The colorful mosaics in the windows of the fourteen-storey building, which has been a national monument since 2019, are beautifully illuminated at night. Unfortunately, a skyscraper is being built for it that will largely obscure the view of the work.'
Another untitled work is Bouke Ylstra's 'graffitos' from 1966, concrete panels in the Stadhuis metro station on the Stadhuisplein side. Lines have been saved in this, filled with black paint based on a two-component adhesive. The dynamic, abstract graphic figures are reminiscent of human or robotic figures as well as industrial devices such as cranes. Post: 'I like such works because they are not clearly present images, but hidden gems of the city. It is modest art, but with absolute added value. My heart goes out to precisely the works of which you would not so easily say that they are art with a capital A. The underdogs of art.'
Openness, no hierarchy
This does not alter the fact that Post can also enjoy clearly present, slightly provocative works of art in public space, which symbolize the straightforward culture of the port city. Such as the icons of Kunst en Vaarwerk, a Rotterdam collective (1979-1992) that made a lot of art for the Port Authority and other companies. The artist group of Cor Kraat, Hans Citroen and Willem van Drunen was known for its ironic, high-profile pop art-like works. Like the Red BMW (1987), thundering out of a facade in Poortstraat, giving the unsuspecting passer-by the idea of witnessing a traffic accident that has just taken place. Post also mentions Guard (2005) at the skate park on the Westblaak, made by Hans van Bentem, an artist with whom she also collaborated at Shop Around.
Post loves the great variety of art within BKOR and likes to talk about it. She enjoys working in a small team, where everyone has specific tasks and no hierarchy. At the moment she is temporarily working from home, due to the covid-19 restrictions, but she finds herself missing the colleagues and the work at the desk. When asked if she still has a dream for the future, she has to think for a long time. And then follows a typical paradoxical answer à la Post. 'I see: I am an open, practical and down-to-earth type,' she says. I am always open to whatever comes my way. I think an uncertain future, in which anything is possible, is a nice idea.'