CULA, 2010
Tea Set
Edition 20 + 3 AP
L×W×H: 30 × 14 × 20 cm
Tea bowl, teapot, tray (with book and serving towel)
Porcelain, black biscuit

CULA is the first work of the Berlin-based artist Olaf Nicolai for the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory and his first work ever with porcelain.

Olaf Nicolai, who counts as one of today’s leading German artists, works conceptually and breaks new ground in order to extract art from the classic forms of representation and marketing. He creates artificial landscapes and urban scenes, augments consumer goods into gargantuan items, and works with distorted advertising art. Thus, familiar images are put in new situations again and again. Nicolai often integrates scientific findings into his concepts. His fascination with mathematical models, universal algorithms, symbolism, and regular patterns can be seen in many of his installations.

In 2010, Olaf Nicolai designed a limited edition for the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory, which consists of a service with tray, teapot and tea bowl made from black biscuit porcelain as well as a book written by a collective of authors and a self-designed serving towel.

This work of art, which Nicolai uses to broach the issue of the economics of time and trade, is combined with the ethnographic research of anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski: During the 1920s, the scientist studied the social rituals of trade and barter on the Trobriand Islands in the Western Pacific. His works focus in particular on the later publication of Malinowski’s “Coral Gardens and Their Magic” – an anthropological study of economics, trade and bartering, magical rituals and expeditions of the inhabitant Kula tribe.

The exterior of the tea service reminds us of the structured pattern of coral and also refers to the non-linear growth model of mathematics. The design of the teapot was actually developed using a medical software programme which was able to simulate complex, asymmetric growth processes.

Creating this tea service with its complex shaping and texture represented a particularly unique challenge for the masters of the Porcelain Manufactory. The Manufactory’s paste mill needed to develop its own special porcelain paste with especially high graining. Based on a secret recipe, the world’s last porcelain paste mill of its kind created the ideal mix of porcelain material for the particular needs of Olaf Nicolai’s artistic vision.
Alongside these aesthetic demands, Olaf Nicolai also gave his CULA work an interactive character: The text of the book on coral gardens which accompanies the edition precisely describes the scenario in which the readers find themselves enjoying their cup of tea. Nicolai reflects the tea ceremony and thus the rites of tea drinking itself. The reader becomes part of the activity.

In Nymphenburg, handmade works of art are manufactured as single objects or as strictly limited editions according to the designs of contemporary artists who count among some of the most widely-renowned creators of art worldwide. Well-known artists like Carsten Höller, Olaf Nicolai and Wim Delvoye focus intensely on the historical and cultural context of Nymphenburg and express their outstanding artistic visions in the highest quality porcelain.

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