Certain design objects are so idiosyncratic that they seem destined for one singular, perfect owner. Such is the case with Daniel Kruger’s Maria Callas Dinner Set, a one-off collection of hand-painted plates, bowls, and dishes, all ornamented with black-and-white photos of the late opera star.
Don’t assume any camp sentiment here: the South African-born, Berlin-based designer intended a straightforward homage to someone he considers to be a truly iconic individual. “I deeply admire Callas as a singer and as a personality,” he explains. “She had something that distinguished her from her contemporaries, and she cultivated this aura in her music as well as in her public and social life. The reverence captured in the dinner set is very sincere, but also light-hearted—it’s meant to bring smiles of pleasure and enjoyment.” Consider it a new genre: biography as place setting.
Though he’s best known for his colorful, bold jewelry, Kruger is also a master of ceramics—including a number of works which push the familiar medium of blue-and-white majolica into unexpected graphic and sculptural combinations. “In both ceramics and jewelry, I work with the conventional and not against it. The use of classical forms in my ceramics reminds the viewer that these are things we all know,” he says. “The imagery I use is unusual, irreverent, and unexpected—yet it too is taken from life around us.”
Like the dinner set, these pieces tend to be unique works, but few of them approach the level of obsessive craft required to complete the 31-piece love letter to Callas—especially considering that Kruger undertakes all facets of the fabrication process on his own. “I actually make everything myself,” he says. “That’s a challenge I like, or perhaps I’m too stubborn to give up any aspect of the work to someone else. That means the whole process is a technical challenge, because I have to find and develop everything with trials—and errors.”
The Callas photographs themselves are transfers from newspaper images, retaining the same “coarse resolution quality” as the originals, he says. Those photos—a mix of performance stills, studio portraits, and shots of the soprano on the beach—are surrounded by a hand-painted gold border and an almost floral wreath of pink-and-gold patterning. One deep purple serving bowl augmented with a headshot of Callas bears an additional kitschy wink: a small poodle figurine on top, to be used as a handle.
Regarding the prospective owner of his creation, Kruger envisions a committed Callas fan who “has the humor to appreciate that there’s an element of popular heroism involved.” We can already hear the operatic soundtrack for that collector’s epic inaugural dinner party.
Scott IndrisekScott is the executive editor of Modern Painters and the founder of Brant Watch. He lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with two erudite cats.