Art & Design

CULA Revisited - A Tea Set Designed by Olaf Nicolai

Jm 36165

Tea time in style. Olaf Nicolai premiered working with porcelain for the historic Nymphenburg manufactory in 2010. As the DLDw13 is taking place in this magic setting, it's time to revisit their supreme contemporary work.

One of the leading German artists and professor at Munich's Academy of Fine Arts, Olaf Nicolai's work has been displayed in many international group and solo exhibitions including documenta X and the Biennale 49 and 51. His creation range from a perpetual football pitch, Apollo, ideological criticism in sculpture, like Lenin 8qm, where he contrasts a soviet fetish with capitalist symbols, or performances like Escalier du Chant.

Overall, his conceptual manner explores new ways to separate art from its classical forms of representation and marketing. He creates artificial landscapes and urban scenes, enlarges consumer goods into gigantic dimensions and works with alienated consumer advertising graphics. Familiar images are placed into new contexts. His fascination with mathematical models, universal algorithms, symbolism and regular patterns can be found in many of his installations, too. That being said, how does this translate onto porcelain?

Simply put: Spectacularly! CULA focuses on the economic aspects of time and trade is linked to the ethnographic research of the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski: During the 1920s, the scientist studied the social rituals for trade and barter on the Trobriand Islands in the western Pacific. In particular, the work refers to the subsequent publication of Malinowski's "Coral Gardens and their Magic" - an anthropological study of economic, trade and barter, magical rituals and expeditions of the residential Kula tribe.

Olaf Nicolai

CULA is the first work by Berlin artist Olaf Nicolai for the Nymphenburg porcelain manufactory and his first work in porcelain at all.

The limited edition artwork for the Nymphenburg porcelain manufactory includes a service with tray, teapot and tea cup made of black bisque porcelain, as well as a book written by a collective of authors and a specially designed serving cloth. The surface of the tea service is reminiscent of the structured patterns of coral and at the same time refers to the non-linear growth models of mathematics. Pretty much DLD13's motto Patterns That Connect in a nutshell. Or rather in a teapot.

On top, it combines high-tech with a unique tradition in handcraft: it was developed with a medical software program that can simulate complex and asymmetric growth processes. The realization of the tea service with its complex shape and texture represented a particular challenge for the masters of the porcelain manufacture. A special porcelain mass with very high grit had to be developed in the manufactory owned mass mill. Based on a secret recipe they developed the perfect blend of porcelain material for the special requirements of Nicolai’s artistic vision in the world's last mill of this kind.


CULA, 2010, Tea set, edition of 20 + 3 AP, Tea cup, teapot, tray (as well as book and Serving cloth), Black porcelain bisque.

Along with the aesthetics, Olaf Nicolai added an interactive character to his work CULA: the book belonging to the edition on the associated coral gardens, exactly describes the scenario in which the reader is drinking tea in the text flow. Nicolai reflects the tea ceremony and thus the rituals of tea drinking itself. The reader is part of the action.

In Nymphenburg, works of art are made entirely by hand as singular objects or strictly limited editions designed by contemporary artists, which are among the most recognized artists worldwide. The DLDw13 is proudly taking place at such a magic spot. Apply for a ticket to this exclusive conference, tune in on the beat of our community on the DLDpulse and find regular updates on the DLDw13 programme and speakers here.