Nathalie Karg, founder and owner of New York-based Cumulus Studios, fields questions from Jeremy Strick, director of Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas.
Describe Cumulus Studios, and your mission, which merges art, design and nature. Cumulus Studios is a fairly young company that invites contemporary artists of our choice to create a functional object for the outdoors. Cumulus Studios is a company unique in its genre. It is the only company that produces objects that are not only functional but also fabricated to withstand weather conditions. The mission is to be able to not only enjoy art as a collector but also to be able to bring your favorite artists outdoors (or in) and live with these objects by using them. We are often invited by art galleries to mount exhibitions, that either incorporate Cumulus’ designs, or one-man shows of Cumulus’ latest collection.
Why are you exhibiting at the Dallas Art Fair 2013? What other fairs do you do as an exhibitor? How does the Dallas Art Fair stand out? Cumulus Studios has done a few art fairs since its inception (NADA Miami and New York, Armory, Design Miami/Basel). We are always exhibiting at the NADA art fair in Miami; we usually want to show our collections in strong, dynamic and serious venues. NADA has grown to become a substantial and internationally recognized fair. We think that Dallas is also a very young and dynamic venue, supported by major benefactors to the art world in general. Dallas has a strong coalition of collectors and museums. It is a perfect location for us, as many houses have outdoor spaces. Cumulus stands out as a different kind of gallery and we are always looking for fairs that would showcase our particularities.
Personal background? Where did you grow up? Education? How did you segue from life as a landscape designer to your current role as a gallerist? I grew up in Paris, France, and have a background in art history and landscape design. I worked for many years in the art world, first by having my own company that advised four collectors on their collections ranging from Pre-Columbian and Cycladic art to contemporary art and photography. I worked for many years in collaboration with my former husband, building his gallery and after spending seven years as a landscape designer, I finally decided to create Cumulus Studios, and merged my two areas of expertise.
Biggest break to date? We are proud to say that most of our pieces end up in wonderful collections. The most defining moment for us is when we continuously have the support and interest from our small stable of collectors that are always excited to see our new pieces. We are also very grateful and humbled by the generosity of our artists that are always excited in collaborating with us.
Describe the aesthetic of what Cumulus does. Why is design important in the contemporary art mix? Many of your artists seem to share a sense of wit, humor and interest in beauty. Can you elaborate? Cumulus Studios has chosen a different path than most. We work solely with contemporary artists, not designers nor architects. This is why our pieces are special. Some of them are quirkier than others, and maybe less comfortable, let’s say, than a widely produced element of design, but this is what makes us stand out. Nevertheless, all artists involved have a beautiful sense of aesthetics and taste, and our production level is of the highest quality. Design has taken a big share of the market lately, because collectors have widened their approach to what collecting art means. It is natural to want to complement your home and garden with something beautiful, especially if you have walls adorned with great art and grounds with sculpture.
Your next collaboration? What are you unfurling on the lawn of the FIG building at the Dallas Art Fair? We understand a game of ping pong is involved? We thought that we could use the lawn of the FIG building with our Games Line. We have produced two Ping-Pong tables with different artists, a croquet set, a bocce ball set and two swings. We want to invite the public to experience these games for themselves and have fun in an unpretentious setting. We will also show on our booth our latest pieces, notably a screen by Stefano Arienti, our new I.O.U. benches by Rirkrit Tiravanija, our birdbath by Ugo Rondinone. We are working hard on our Italian Collection (Stefano Arienti, Diego Perrone, Massimo Bartolini) and hope to be ready for you. We will also show our new textile line.
Who or what are your personal inspiration? What books, films or travel destinations are in your planner for Spring 2013? I am always inspired by the modernist designers and their aesthetics. The Lina Bo Bardi house in São Paolo in its simplicity and astute design is a perfect example of creative thinking. Her Glass House she built for herself and her husband allows nature to be in perfect communion with industrial design. Nature is also a constant inspiration for me. My bedside table is splattered with books that range from fiction to the New Yorker, to food writing and quirky architectural books (my latest being, [an interest in] pre-fab design)
Most challenging/intriguing collaboration to date? Any stories to share ? Where and who fabricates the creations or does that depend on the individual artists? Are they all limited editions? How many in each edition usually? All our artists have been incredibly interesting to work with; and because of the nature of our business, it is a constant challenge and a close and continuous collaboration has to exist between the artists and Cumulus. We are in a very different process than let’s say, a regular gallery, that is awaiting the artist’s next show. Producing pieces that would withstand weather conditions is a constant puzzle, and a fair amount of communication is necessary. We have to fabricate pieces that can withstand heat or freezing conditions, sun and ice. When we have a final product, of course, the satisfaction is immense. For example, it took us two years and many prototypes to fabricate Jim Lambie’s Flip Flop table; it first started in Glasgow and ended up in Los Angeles. Rirkrit’s [Tiravanija] mirror- polished stainless steel objects (weathervane, benches) started in Thailand and also ended up in California, after a short passage in Germany.
We are currently working on a very exciting project that will hopefully be completed by 2015. One of our artist is creating a painting that will be adorning the floor and the walls of a yacht swimming pool. There are many technical issues to be resolved yet (vibrations, weight etc.) but the whole team (from artist to client, shipyard, designers, technical crew) is immensely involved and striving for a beautiful result. We also need to take into consideration the price level of these objects; sometimes, fabrication costs are prohibitive as these are always editions. Our editions range from unique to 20. The edition size is mostly decided upon the cost of fabrication and the complexity of it. We have now a fairly good address book of fabricators and we are daily trying new and more cost effective ways to fabricate.
How does the process work when you select an artist? Timeline to completion? Do you have input during the collaboration? Do you suggest the idea of what type of object the artist will design? I have been collecting art since I was 18 years old. Saving for months and paying in installments. Art has always been part of my life; I choose an artist as I would curate a collection. Sometimes, I choose to invite an artist thinking it would be a challenge for them to work with us, as their philosophy and work is miles away from “design” or “functional.” It is interesting to me to wait and see what they will come up with. Often, I am asked to give my input, which I am glad to help with, but in general, they know what they want and we just discuss fabrication procedures, costs and if we find that the project cannot be realized, we think of something else. Sometimes, I am bold or tipsy enough to ask straight out for a particular element I would like to have by a specific artist.
Who is on your wish list for future artists? Are your Cumulus Projects in museum collections? And which ones to date? Next goal for Cumulus 2013? The 21c Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, has purchased Adam McEwen’s Hare Swing as well as a private museum in Lugano, Switzerland. We are in the process of finalizing a close collaboration with the Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida. Our wish list is very ambitious and large, we would love to do a project with Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas and many more. We hope that by 2013 we will be working on projects around the world.