Noleen Kutash once hired a helicopter pilot to fly over a remote farm in the Natal region of South Africa. Her mission: to locate a Zulu artist.
There was no telephone service in the area because the local tribes had been digging up underground wires for their crafts. Using a megaphone, the pilot called out Kutash’s phone number over the artist’s home.
As an importer, the South African native understands that resorting to such extreme or unusual measures is part of the quest for exotic art. She takes the unconventional route as well in displaying her finds. Kutash displays her collection, Phases Africa, in a private and personal space: her Newport Beach home.
Seated in a wing chair covered with ostrich skin in the living room of her Big Canyon home, she speaks of traveling to Timbuktu to purchase hand-tooled goat leather products from the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara desert and to the Midland Natal region of South Africa for baskets woven from colorful telephone wire by artisans of the Zulu tribes.
“Every piece tells a story,” Kutash says. “A lot of people buy things that speak of nothing, but these pieces guarantee there is something to tell. Nothing is factory-made; therefore each piece is unique and it possesses a history of the people who made it.”
Among her favorite pieces are the painted carved colonial figures from Africa’s Ivory Coast, which stand 5 ½ to 7 feet and the 6-foot tall women with expressive faces carved from palm fronds from the Natal region.
“I won’t buy it unless I see the spirit of Africa in it,” she says.
Kutash carefully guards the individual names of many artists because of stiff competition in the import business. The prices for pieces in her collection are comparable to those available at high-end design centers.
The gallery-quality art pieces from Phases Africa are not among the safari souvenirs readily available to tourists, she says.
To wit, Zimbabwean Shona stone sculpture, which is part of her collection, is also displayed among the permanent collections of the Rodin Museum in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other museums throughout the world.
Kutash started her company by showing at The Collection on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles in 2001. She moved to her Newport Beach home three years ago and began using her home to display her collection. Aside from the benefit of lowering the company’s overhead, her in-home showroom allows clients to see how pieces can fit naturally into a house.
She mixes the best of Africa – both old and new pieces that reflect tribal and European colonial heritage – with the latest furnishings from South Africa’s contemporary designers.
With a background in theater set and costume design, Kutash uses natural colors of the desert together with modern furniture to help bring the pieces to life. The two-story display offers a slant toward contemporary styling through accents such as the Medusa mirror and table carved from African obeche wood created by a Russian sculptor living in South Africa.
African art mixes well with contemporary and traditional-style homes, she says.
“It’s the one art form that goes with everything.”