Dismantling Predictability: Jewellery by Winfried Krüger

Article  /  Arnoldsche   Artists   Essays
Published: 12.11.2014
Cornelie Holzach Cornelie Holzach
Cornelie Holzach
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Arnoldsche Art Publishers
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This text is an excerpt written by Cornelie Holzach from the book, Krüger: No Title, published in 2014 by Arnoldsche Art Publishers.  This book is a retrospective of the work by Winfried Krüger from the last twenty years and explores the development of his own unique jewellery language. It reflects how Krüger has been moving freely and skillfully between jewellery, drawing, painting and staging through his career.
Excerpt from the book Krüger: No Title
Cornelie Holzach, 2014
Arnoldsche Art Publishers

Being confronted with the work an artist has been producing for more than fifty years – from the early 1960s up to the present – is very satisfying indeed because you can read the times from it and, above all, keep in mind the constant changes that have taken place in that artist’s signature. The earliest pieces by the young Winfried (Vincy) Krüger were, it goes without saying, directed and shaped by the teachers he had then; that meant at first bowing to the dictates of the modern design doctrine, which are distinguished by the stringent forms of the late 1950s and have continued to exert an influence in architecture in the International Style propagated by the likes of Mies van der Rohe.

It was a learning process that entailed gradually approaching the free work done by the goldsmiths and sculptors of the day, a process which would soon manifest itself in confident and independent work. The role models were there but in no time at all were developed and shaped by Krüger’s own inimitable and powerful handling to become quotations rather than models. In his hands, the application of controlled fortuity to melting and soldering in gold did not turn into the arbitrary, admittedly lively, surface texturing so popular in high-end 1960s jewellery. Instead it showcases with great intensity the paradox informing his handling of metal. Hard metal looks as if has been kneaded by powerful hands to a viscosity that it does not possess in reality. Nor is he content to devote himself to merely designing the surface of the metal. On the contrary, exciting compositions are developed with beads and precious stones. Here we are still operating well within the design framework of the time so familiar in all its variations, yet the small gemstones that surface in various works Winfried Krüger produced at that time signal stirrings heralding something new and unforeseen. Picked up somewhere and deemed suitable, this quotation of classic goldsmithing is incorporated in contemporary works of jewellery. It may seem a bit strange, but this process of dismantling the predictable provides the barb that catches attention: something isn’t right here, but it fits. Of course, some degree of irony also plays a role, because vast quantities of gems of that sort were (and still are) worked in very conventional pieces of jewellery. Taking them from their usual context to build them into a very modern piece of jewellery, on the one hand, addresses the banal mass production of jewellery. On the other, it is an indication of not taking contemporary art jewellery very seriously. After all, its leading exponents are not much less adamant about dissociating themselves from the herd than traditionalist goldsmiths have always been. So these little treasures are caught in the middle – and it is this position that attests to independence and self-determination; doing something and leaving something else undone because one has opted to do so and not because that is how one does things. We are perfectly justified in taking that as the motto by which Winfried Krüger lives his life and as his (and our) underlying attitude to his work as an artist. He can make jewellery but need not if he doesn’t choose to. And when he does make it, he does so devotedly and with unusually focused concentration. Anything and everything can become jewellery – be it a silhouette, a drawing, a photo of a cactus, a discarded piece of plastic or a precious stone. There is nothing that is not fit for purpose and nothing that is without value or too valuable. In the 1980s Krüger was also preoccupied with the discrepancy between effortlessly jotting down a freehand drawing and translating it into a piece of jewellery. How to keep the lightness inherent in the drawing when one has to wield metal and a soldering iron? The pieces he showed at a 1981 exhibition at the Pforzheim Art and Crafts Association represented an astonishing result. Once – and in this case one could not miss the good goldsmith that he is – he translated the pencil and charcoal hatching into silver and gold inlay on sheet copper with all the irregularities and blotches that make work in metal so similar to the drawing that preceded it without, however, copying it in detail. The other way is to make a piece of jewellery after a drawing as a free design and then paint the piece and work it over with pencil. The ground of the drawing is really the piece of jewellery. This procedure attests, especially at the time, to the self-image of an artist who is not restricted to his métier – an act which is not always easy for a jewellery-maker to pull off. Here one has succeeded in doing it with poise and seemingly without expending too much effort. It is only natural, then, that pieces of jewellery made of painted paper, papier mâché and wood should be the consequence of, or nearly synchronous with, the licence Winfried Krüger permits himself in fusing painting, drawing and jewellery. The 1980s were a time of great experiments, an era of breaking away from the constraints imposed on the profession of jewellery-making. Large forms placed on the body, but not in the usual places, mark those years as a new departure in art jewellery, culminating in exhibitions on a grand scale in Linz (Schmuck – Zeichen am Körper [Jewellery – Signs on the Body], 1987) and Pforzheim (Ornamenta 1, 1989). Krüger was not just a participant; he was a pioneer, moving freely and skilfully between jewellery, drawing, painting and staging without, however, appearing in the least affected or as if striving for showy effects – a phenomenon that is all too often apparent in the staginess afflicting jewellery during those years. Although in such cases a drawing is closely related to a piece of jewellery, Krüger’s Shadow Brooches represent an altogether different, new step.

Shadows that elude one’s grasp yet are always there (as Peter Schlemihl knew only too well) go from being photos to pieces of jewellery, or, put more succinctly, become jewellery themselves. Krüger reduces details cut from photos to the elements that are essential to him: the real figure is represented three-dimensionally as contour, and its shadow accompanies it in two dimensions as black tin. This is an experiment that is quite a way from wearable jewellery but is no less convincing for that in its sculptural character. In fact, these works, too, are an indication that wearability should defer to idea and invention. Those qualities may not be given priority in Winfried Krüger’s work, but their presence is always palpable in it, and sometimes one must simply make the effort to discover them. In his work in jewellery he has often explored uncharted territory without being much concerned with tradition or even the implicit rules governing contemporary jewellery. This stance makes him independent and prevents him from following the beaten track of avant-garde jewellery.

Lacking in vanity, autonomous, thoroughly disrespectful of bathos but never cynical, he is always game for new adventures in finding jewellery. Rough cast imprints of tyre tracks, sprues with unfiled risers that have been painted or blackened look coarse only at first sight. They are in fact precision designed objects that represent a skilled balancing act between material pure and simple and artistic intervention. The pieces of recent years made from plastic parts cast in silver to which a specific function can no longer be assigned tell us something about the way Winfried Krüger handles things that surround us day in day out, things so mundane that we have long since ceased to perceive them. He does, giving new, vibrant life to such humble objects now devoid of any useful function. The concentration and seriousness with which he goes about his work are accompanied by a good dose of humour and casual detachment. It is to Winfried Krüger’s credit, both as a man and an artist, that his eye is so keen, that he approaches his work at once passionately and pragmatically and, above all, refuses to take himself all too seriously. As different as works produced over a time span of fifty years must of necessity be, they all reveal this attitude to his subject – jewellery – which, much to our joy, has never left him nor ever will leave him.