About ninety percent of the artwork for sale at the multifarious Miami Basel art fairs do not do well in the rain. Nature may have been an inspirational starting point, but the natural elements are bad news. Rain is damaging, the sun is damaging, the wind is dangerous; sand or dirt of any kind around these precious artworks will give even the coolest dealer a fast case of the howling fantods.
I’d started to take these facts for granted until I chanced upon Cumulus Studios, situated out on the pool deck at the Nada Art Fair. Natalie Karg, the brains behind the Cumulus operation, was sitting on a folding seat designed by the artist Marcel Odenbach. Situated in the shade of a stainless steel umbrella by Jan Mancuska, Karg was watching a pair of collectors play ping-pong on a table made by the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. “Everything out here is totally weather proof,” said Karg, “no problem at all.” This is the defining factor that separates Cumulus Studios from all the other galleries, Cumulus specializes in outdoor functional objects made by contemporary artists.
CHARLIE SCHULTZ: “What was the germ of this concept?” I asked.
NATALIE KARG: “Basically, I was trained as an architect and a landscape designer. I used to design a lot of gardens, really big beautiful gardens, and part of my job was finding cool furniture to fit with the garden. I also spent a lot of time around the art world, and I really just merged the two worlds. I thought, artists would make really funky stuff for gardens, and Cumulus grew out of that.”
CS: “Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with? What was their reaction to your proposal to make functional art work that would be outside?”
NK: “I’ve worked with Georg Baselitz, Jim Drain, Adam McEwen, Rob Pruitt, Mark Dion, and many more. They really love the idea. They have total freedom to make whatever they want, the only limitation is that it has to be functional and it has to be able to withstand the weather. “What’s really interesting is that the artists' personalities really come out in the works they make. Like the Baselitz scarecrow for example. The scarecrow is a motif in Baselitz’s work and so is the erect penis, both of those things are right there in the sculpture.”
CS: “How have people at the fair reacted to the work?”
NK: “Everyone really enjoys it. It’s fun, interactive. You can touch it. There is a sense of humor in the work that is lacking big time in so much of the contemporary art today.”
CS: “Last question and I’ll let you get back to talking to someone who might be an buyer: what are the future plans?”
NK: “Oh. Well I have so many! I want to commission artists to create out door spaces for parks, museums, even schools if I could. Can you imagine a cafeteria with the tables and chairs designed by artists instead of just the stuff from Taiwan? Instead of those terrible institutional lights there could be softer, more funky light. It seems like a simple idea, but it could have a real impact on people’s lives. That’s what I always thought art was for, not just a painting to look at on a wall, but something that is a daily inspiration.”
~ Charlie Schultz
Images: Adam McEwen, Hare Swing, Photo Judi Roaman. Installation view, NADA Art Fair.