The Museum of Craft and Design opens the first mid-career survey of German artist Iris Eichenberg
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The Museum of Craft and Design opens the first mid-career survey of German artist Iris Eichenberg
Iris Eichenberg, Wool Hearts Revisited (Installation), 2020, (detail). Wool. Variable dimensions. Photo by Tim Thayer.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The Museum of Craft and Design is presenting Iris Eichenberg: Where Words Fail—the first mid-career survey of German artist Iris Eichenberg whose work addresses relevant issues such as identity, gender, and Heimat—a German word denoting the personal happiness and inner peace found upon reaching a safe haven. Where Words Fail is on view from June 25 to October 30, 2022.

Having lived in Germany, the Netherlands, and now the United States, artist and educator Iris Eichenberg brings a critical international perspective to her jewelry and metalwork. Guest curated by Davira S. Taragin, Where Words Fail is divided into four themed sections: Place, Self, Place & Self, and Community, each pulling from works across the artist’s career, including new work, jewelry, objects, and installations.

As the section titles suggest, Eichenberg’s practice is guided by her unique multicultural perspective as well as a relentless interrogation of materiality in order to identify the craft process and combination of materials that best suit the idea at hand. Unlike other artists who have lived in multiple European capitals and choose to inject aspects of diverse culture into their works, Eichenberg’s sojourn in America has made her increasingly aware of her “Germanness.” However, this response to her heritage has always been complicated by a sense of guilt and responsibility for a past with deep cultural and historical implications. This is seen in artworks such as Eichenberg’s poignant “Heimat” series, which celebrates the Germany of her grandmothers. Patchwork-quilt fields bordered by forests, the ancestral timber farmhouse filled with warm, welcoming evidence of hard-working women, and old family photographs provide recurring motifs for her works that range in scale.

In today’s world with its outcry for social justice, Eichenberg’s work is exceptionally relevant, embracing timely topics such as gender and queer identity, the search for a safe welcoming haven, and reality. As an emigrant and queer artist, Eichenberg defines herself in each of the unfamiliar environments she inhabits through ambiguous terms, relying on the sensorial language that is an outgrowth of the materials and processes she employs. Over the past twenty years, the artist increasingly has turned to more explicit images of women’s sexual organs. While she has always employed banal forms, some of her more recent work introduces a new level of intense, albeit poetic physicality, which assumes even greater sensuality. This is present in works such as Finger (2013), a wall-mounted grouping of elongated polymer digits, that celebrates touch as well as her queer identity.​​

Guest Curator Davira S. Taragin states, “Over the past quarter-century, as an educator and prolific artist who lectures and conducts workshops worldwide, Eichenberg has been instrumental in molding and shaping art jewelry today. This exhibition will, hopefully, mark the beginning of much-needed scholarship on this seminal figure within late twentieth- and twenty-first-century art.”

Assembled for the first time for West Coast audiences from international private and public collections and Eichenberg’s extensive archive, Iris Eichenberg: Where Words Fail presents thirty-eight works that demonstrate Eichenberg’s examination of self, including the impact of place and community.

Iris Eichenberg: Where Words Fail is made possible, in part, by the Susan Beech Mid-Career Artist Grant from Art Jewelry Forum. This exhibition is generously supported by Goethe-Institut San Francisco, the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Barbara Waldman. The Museum of Craft and Design’s exhibitions and programs are generously supported by Grants for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Hunter Douglas and Dorothy Saxe.

After showing at the Museum of Craft and Design, Where Words Fail will travel to the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami where it will be on view from October 19, 2023–January 14, 2024.

Born and raised on a farm on the outskirts of Göttingen, Eichenberg initially followed expectations and trained as a nurse. After practicing for several years, she decided to pursue a career in art. Eichenberg moved to Amsterdam and, in 1988, enrolled at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, where she found herself in an open, creatively tolerant environment surrounded by students, some of whom have become leaders of Dutch design, craft, and art. In her 1994 graduation exhibition, she set forth her mature aesthetic: silver and knitted wool jewelry that address the body and life. A trailblazer in the use of knitted yarn forms in jewelry, she subsequently became an adjunct professor at the Rietveld, then full professor, and head of its jewelry department from 2000 to 2007. In 2006 Eichenberg was named Artist-in-Residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a position that she still holds today. She divided her time between the two schools until 2007 when she established her residency at Cranbrook.

Museums have been interested in Eichenberg’s work since the beginning of her career. In 1966, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum acquired its first object by this artist; it now owns numerous examples dating from her years in The Netherlands. Today, her work is included in such notable public collections as CODA Museum (Apeldoorn, the Netherlands), Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York), Die Neue Sammlung (Munich), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Museum of Arts and Design (New York), The Mint Museum (Charlotte, North Carolina), The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (Texas), the National Swiss Museum (Zurich), the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), and the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim (Germany). Eichenberg has organized numerous exhibitions, lectured extensively, and conducted workshops worldwide, influencing countless international jewelry artists.

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