Daniel Kruger was born in South Africa and currently lives in Germany, where he recently retired from University for Art and Design, in Halle. Kruger studied under Professor Hermann Junger at the Academy of Fine Arts, receiving his diploma in 1980. Since completing his studies Daniel’s work has been exhibited widely by galleries and museums internationally and recognized with awards and distinctions worldwide for his contribution to contemporary jewelry. He has lectured about jewelry, his work in jewelry and ceramics, and has taught workshops around the world. A recent recipient of the prestigious Herbert Hofmann Prize, his work can be seen in renowned public collections including the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Montreal; Pforzheim Schmuckmuseum im Reuchlinhaus, Germany; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Montreal; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich Germany; The Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry, Tokyo; and The Power House Museum, Sydney.
Taking cues from historical artifacts and Euclidean geometry, jewelry and ceramic designer Daniel Kruger says that many of his pieces “have a distinct erotic quality.” His creations are often symmetrical and in pairs: two-pronged rings, brooches hiding double pearls, necklaces with twin pendants. He balances mathematical patterns—grids, tessellating shapes—with softer, more organic lines. It’s Kruger’s choice of materials, such as silver, turquoise, and coral, that give his works their aura of ancient treasure. Kruger is not loyal to particular time periods or regions though; influences include everything from Apache beading to Byzantine enamelwork.
I use many different materials, both rich and poor. The forms vary from organic to geometric, the organic however seems to prevail. Texture, pattern and color play a big role, as does sensuality both in the shapes as well as in the use of material. Many pieces have a distinct erotic quality. I like symmetry; often pieces are made up of pairs. For ideas I draw on natural forms and artifacts of all kind, both historical as well as contemporary. This I believe is evident in my work. The crafting of each piece is part of the creative thinking process. The jewelry I make is to adorn a person, to be a celebration. Its place is the body and its intention is to enhance the wearer as well as to be an object of contemplation to be taken in the hand and looked at from all sides. It is both jewelry and an artifact conceived and made by one person for the enjoyment by another person.
It was a revolutionary moment in the seventies when Daniel Kruger collected the little forks that people use to eat “currywurst” from underneath the beer-garden tables in Munich’s English Garden and worked them into a wonderfully innovative necklace that now resides in the city’s Neue Sammlung.
Kruger was twenty-six years old at the time, but the distinctive features of his oeuvre were already beginning to emerge:
1. A certain partiality for the found object, and thus an inherent closeness to his teacher at the time, Hermann Jünger, in a kind of aesthetic kinship that matured and was later moved away from.
2. Accompanying this, the painterly components he employs as an aesthetic concept and a means of expression.
3. A love of heterogeneous elements, which is to say, Kruger has cultivated the art of assemblage, bringing together, at times, innately different components in keeping with his own particular worldview, which we shall return to shortly.
4. An imagery that arises from the contemplation of nature, as a reflection on it that is not intended as depiction or reproduction but more as the active, creative selection and assimilation of references to nature in a material that does not necessarily derive from nature.
These more or less are the cornerstones of Kruger’s work. Incidentally, we are talking about jewellery, even though it might not sound that way.
Most of you will associate Kruger’s creations in some way with a vague notion of textile qualities. In point of fact comparatively few of the works shown here have a concrete textile character. But thinking in textile metaphors is quite fundamental to his approach, especially with regard to binding. Knotting or tying together by real or symbolic means is a central method for the artist that goes far beyond employing a specific materiality or other characteristics of weaving. In this way he constructs bridges – between eras, between citations, between cultures, between colour, ornament and jewellery.
Kruger braids, knots and binds layers of valence into his material, while likewise connecting the stories of the old and the new, of the appearance and the continuity of things. Thus stones, glass, mirrors, the found or the invented, pearls, gold and silver, enamel, threads and surfaces augment one another in a cosmos of jewellery that develops in a self-explanatory way. Kruger has retained this from a childhood spent on his parents’ farm outside the gates of Cape Town. There was always something to repair, to put together, some manual work to be done. He has also retained a sense of curiosity, a desire to discover, a delight in the uniqueness of certain objects and their unmistakable features. As for instance when we think of the juxtapositions and contrasts in the scintillating hues he gives his intricate compositions.
His title for the exhibition is by no means arbitrary and touches on a sore spot in art, which, viewed historically, started out from nature and for a long time competed with it before ultimately culminating in counter-worlds and artificial constructions. In short, art first wanted to be like nature, like its teacher, but then strove to surpass and surmount it by means of penetrating analysis that allowed it to reveal and visualise inner and outer laws. Something similar occurs in Kruger’s oeuvre, as if he has taken this way of creating identities as his own artistic yardstick and transformed it into an artistic strategy, oscillating between naturalness, or a love of nature, and a confrontation with the artificial.
That Kruger feels particularly indebted to nature is revealed in his highly personal introduction to the catalogue. With precision and a poet’s sensitivity, he describes the differences between his South African origins and the European landscape. It is this background, too, that led him to his passion for objets trouvés, as mentioned earlier, which Kruger then enhances and anchors in a new context, which is to say in jewellery. It is against this same backdrop that we should understand his palette, which moves back and forth between elegant allusion and radiant intensity. Something that can be conveyed in fine nuances, recollecting South Africa, as Kruger describes in his text, confronts the rich colours of the vegetation he encountered in his adopted home of Bavaria. Profiting from both extremes, his work has come to settle between these two poles.
And how is this accomplished? By linking up for instance into chains, in a variant of knotting. Linking elements and eyelets are an easily overlooked motif in Kruger’s oeuvre. At first glance of minor importance, on closer inspection they play a key role. It is no coincidence that we find pendants, spheres, disks, stones, and beads dangling from them, just as it is no surprise that accumulations are built up to form rich cascades and pouch-shaped formations; or they serve to attach playful, moveable elements onto bulbous forms from which they often radiate outwards or stand out. And whether as links or connecting components in a chain, as elements of transition, or as bridges or joints, a great deal depends on them. Often they are the entire concept behind a piece.
On a figurative level an aspect creeps in here that we have already mentioned, but which I would like to pinpoint with the words of Bazon Brock: “When we make textile structures, the miracle of the natural is attained by artifice.” Ornamental character and natural inspiration are derived from one and the same source. The ornament, which Alois Riegl designated around a century ago as a product of “freely exercised artistic will”, mutated in the past from mere decoration or embellishment in the visual and applied arts to a fundamental element of twentieth century abstraction, which earned it the designation of a “cultural universal” in art history. If ornament is then applied as an artistic tool and accredited with a symbolic function and universal meaning, its adoption takes us to a deeper level of meaning. With that we can assign Daniel Kruger’s work to the foregoing discourse and grant him a corresponding position in the art discussions of recent years.
Thus the idea of a kind of weave-like skeleton behind the work as a whole allows it to be rooted in the field of ornament and to be linked up with the image of nature in art. As Jorunn Veiteberg writes in the catalogue, chaos and order are thus wed together under this overriding principle. Daniel Kruger has developed a singular texture in his jewellery, which is to say a personal signature that manifests and expresses itself in his own specific vocabulary, and establishes a network in the system of his “language”, as in a weave, a fabric, or a textile in the figurative sense.
This brings us to a further consideration by the celebrated critic Bazon Brock when he interprets the weave, the epitome of textus, as a universal structure. The association with textiles and creative textile work marks, in his view, an act of signification that constitutes contextual meaning and makes the world determinable – naturally as a symbolic figure or metaphorical expression. Brock tells us: “And just as in textiles where I start to create a weave with the smallest unit, the tying together of two threads, the contextual meaning of the world must begin in the smallest detail. All that exists on the large scale must first be realised on the smallest level. By repeatedly carrying out on the small level what we take to be on the large scale, we confirm that the overall vision, the view of the whole, the grand principles for explaining the universe etc., can only be justified by the means that are used in the details in order to verify and realise the whole.”
That might seem rather wild and far-fetched. After all, we are talking about Daniel Kruger’s jewellery. And yet his approach, the tactile quality and finish of his works, his techniques and his choice of materials reflect a deeper-lying or primal way of handling things that is evinced by the resulting artefact. An item of jewellery by Kruger aims at being more, at presenting an added value, as he himself has said in conversation with Roberta Bernabei: “… it should add something to life, be a worthwhile experience and hold its own over time.”
The coordinates of Kruger’s oeuvre, the coordinates of his perceptions are shaped by things past or handed-down, by tradition, modernity and the present. And if these remains, these bequests, these left-overs inspire the author and “kick in”, as it were, they are taken up and adapted. Grids, zigzags, interlacings, interweavings, knottings are used to integrate and salvage them. Kruger acts out of respect for what has been, for nature, for what the world offers, but uses it to construct his own objects, which simultaneously contain and harbour the spirit of the historic, the folkloric, the foreign, and the avant-garde.
Which brings us full circle, as in a necklace. One element follows on from another, they come together and are passed on. “My interest, however, is continuity; the past reaching into the present and extending into the future,” Kruger says.
Which also explains his love of ceramics, which may be regarded by their very nature as exemplifying an archaic, primal vehicle for mankind’s will to shape and create. Kruger’s strategy turns out to be that of the collector. Hence the amber, for instance, that features in his brooches, a fossilised resin that has been known for thousands of years and is a stone from primaeval times. Hence his use of meteorites, a solid material of cosmic provenance that has passed through the planet’s atmosphere and reached the earth. Hence some of Kruger’s patterns that recall Moorish designs and eastern adornments. Hence other objects that are close to the abstract imagery of modernism, to a geometrical structure and order, or that have an almost kinetic look. Or hence the sense of the baroque that makes itself felt. Mediaeval-looking casings, necklets reminiscent of traditional African dress with large discs, pouches and purses, as if to store remedies or objects auguring protection. And so on and so forth. Kruger collects and links up – impressions, experiences, things seen, things found and used, things handmade or industrial – and carries on linking and building up his edifice of ideas spanning nature and artifice.
Ellen Maurer Zilioli