Doing the Deed (Decoratively) on the SOFA
Over the last twenty years, the barriers separating the fine arts from their decorative and industrial cousins have become, if not porous as a pasta strainer then, to a degree greater than any time after World War II, porous. It’s a negotiation that has taken place since antiquity, and no doubt will continue well into the Space Age (Is it metallurgy or is it Memorex, particle board, or its 22nd-century equivalent?).
With contemporary decorative arts having hit jaw-dropping, record-upon-record auction prices over the last decade (such as Marc Newson’s curvaceous aluminum divan that sold in 2006 for just shy of $1 million, for example, as well as the eye-popping prices last spring for the works of 20th-century creators such Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne in the winter and spring Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge collection auctions), it’s no wonder that the Sculptural Objects & Functional Art Fair, otherwise known as SOFA, attracts connoisseurs and, increasingly, crowds.
The first SOFA was held in Chicago in 1994, with SOFA New York starting several years later. April 16-19, this Friday to Monday (with a preview scheduled for the evening of April 15), marks SOFA New York’s 13th iteration.
On deck are sixty galleries from the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America and the Near East, featuring works from established boldfaces (such as Ruth Duckworth, Beatrice Wood, Peter Voulkos, Wharton Esherick) to up-and-comers to entirely new finds. Media—glass, ceramics, fiber, metal, wood, rubber, high-tech polymers—will be pushed, as will, hopes SOFA founder and director Mark Lyman, prices.
Last week Lyman and I sat down on the figurative cyber sofa to talk SOFA in general and SOFA NY specifically. Neither questions nor answers were couched.
1. What differentiates SOFA New York from SOFA Chicago in October and SOFA Santa Fe in July?
The most obvious is the size of venue and number of galleries. Chicago is by far the largest in number of galleries and size of hall. This allows us to include more galleries that exhibit lesser known artists and, most importantly, offer a wide range of special exhibits from museums, universities and art organizations. Additionally we have an area we call the Resource Center where museums, art organizations, universities are able to provide information for the public from tables and displays. We also have areas set aside where artists are presenting process—ie, the Corning Museum of Glass has a mobile hot glass studio where some of the most talented artists working in that medium show and discuss how the process reinforces their vision.
And SOFA NY?
New York is a smaller fair and is very select in both the dealers and the artworks presented. It is very appealing to the NY art collector, and has a different pace: Chicago is more populist and bustling; NY is still busy but quieter, with more a “boutique” sensibility.
SOFA Santa Fe?
Santa Fe, our newest rendition of SOFA is into it’s second year and is the smallest of the venues and number of galleries but already very popular in Santa Fe. We had a great turnout last year not only by the local market but had a buying audience fly in for the fair. Santa Fe is developing an additional feature of being representative of the Native American artists with significant ceramics and metalwork being featured. As a location it draws more from the West Coast and Southwest. We are working closely with a number of local and regional organizations to augment the Santa Fe menu of activities, such as a special evening at the Santa Fe Opera celebrating an artist; an installation and performance by a young arts organization, and a fantastic three-day seminar and tour of historic and contemporary Native American pottery.
2. How has the field grown over the years?
The number of galleries representing artists who are exploring the forms and media traditionally associated with decorative, applied arts and design has increased significantly, as has the number of artist exploring these areas. The price of works has risen significantly with only a flattening of the market (as contrasted with a drop or severe drop) during the recent economic decline. The works are a strong value—the best artists and best pieces are available in most cases under $500,000—very reasonable compared to major works by established artists in the painting market. Private, museum and corporate collections have increased in number with a secondary market now being established.
3. SOFA Santa Fe launched last year, in an inhospitable national and international economic climate (to say the least). Did you consider a delay or were you convinced the fair would hold its own? How did it do? Have more dealers signed up for this year than last?
We had to replace a number of the dealers that had signed up before the drop hit. As with all the art fairs, the number of galleries with the capital and courage to go to a fair has been reduced. Our first year was a success in view of the number of people attending (10,000), the diverse areas from which the audience traveled, and, most importantly, sales by the galleries.
Not all galleries did well, as is the norm in any art fair and particularly a first year art fair, but we had a number of galleries selling well or very well. This year’s fair is shaping up to be an interesting mix of dealers with a number of top level dealers joining in, including long time Santa Fe favorite Linda Durham. Garth Clark and Mark Delvecchio, noted dealers who have moved to Santa Fe from NYC are again presenting extraordinary contemporary Native American ceramics as well as notable secondary market works. At this time, the fair has not been filled – another situation that is common with art fairs ‘after the fall’ as dealers have shortened the time frame for making economic decisions. I expect the remainder 1/3 of the fair will be filled by end of April.
4. Any other SOFA cities on the horizon?
A general interest in Europe and then doing special projects based on artwork from dealers in SOFA in conjunction with other art fairs. I am working on a special project of sculpture in the glass medium to be presented at an art fair in Miami Beach during the gathering around Art Basel Miami Beach.
5. Do you think the Great Recession has strengthened fairs by making a centralized emporium of vetted dealers even more important than previously; weakened fairs due to both general economics and because they’re an added expense for dealers; or left fairs relatively unchanged in the fine and decorative arts empyrean?
I commented a bit on this above. The number of dealers doing fairs is flattening or maybe dropping as capital is reduced due to lower overall activity in the marketplace. But your thought that they are in a sense becoming stronger, or say, more significant in the marketing plans of those left standing has some truth—particularly those fairs that have established a brand. SOFA is certainly one of those fairs, with its brand being recognizable by galleries and collectors alike.
6. Who are up and coming artists to watch?
Of course I can get into trouble here by whom I do not have time to mention. But I would say my interest lies in contemporary ceramicists coming out of Japan that are presented by Joan Mirviss—this year being Koike Shôko. Ann Nathan Gallery will have the sculpture of Christina Cordova—dark figurative works in ceramics. Hiroshi Suzuki’s raised silver and gold vessels are masterworks in a very challenging medium and are highly sought after by connoisseurs. Dutch artist Ted Noten, repped by Ornamentum, has been challenging the viewer with his Lucite encased golden guns and paraphernalia that take the form of a traditional woman’s handbag. New York’s latest gallery addition, CRFA, will be showing the sculpture/furniture/design work of Jaehyo Lee—sure to be a big hit at the fair.
7. Who are up and coming dealers to watch?
Getting me further in trouble…..
CRFA, New York
Ornamentum, Hudson NY
Sienna, Lenox MA
Blue Rain, Santa Fe
Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon, London
Cross Mackenzie gallery, DC
Lyons Weir Gallery, NY
Ferrin Gallery, Pittsfield MA
Schantz Gallery, Stockbridge MA
8. You’ve never asked an artist to do an installation at SOFA New York before. Why Wahl?
The installation was proposed by Tom Grotta—great larger scale works that needed an out-of-booth-type of site. Why? It’s good work and adds an exciting new approach to the fair.
Photos from top:
- Collector with Adrian Sassoon in the Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon booth at SOFA NEW YORK 2008
- George Nakashima
- Conoid End Table, 1964
- American black walnut
- photo: Michael J. Joniec
- Represented by Moderne Gallery
- Michael Eden
- A Rebours, 2009
- additive layer manufacturing nyon material, non-fired ceramic coating, liquid gold leaf
- Represented by Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon
- Chien-Wei Chang
- Wounded Soul in Healing Process, 2009
- silver, felt
- photo: Michael Harvey
- Represented by Joanna Bird Pottery
- Christa Assad
- Transformer Teapot, 2010
- wheel thrown and constructed white stoneware, oxides, glaze
- Represented by Ferrin Gallery
- Fiaz Elson
- Obscure Clarity, 2010
- photo: Simon Bruntnell
- Represented by Contemporary Applied Arts
- Ruudt Peters
- ANIMA “eva” 2009
- silver, gold electroformed
- Represented by Ornamentum
- Irina Zaytceva
- Last Day of Summer, 2010
- hand-built porcelain, overglaze, 24k gold lustre
- photo: Ross Stout
- Represented by Jane Sauer Gallery
- Hiroshi Suzuki
- Ayawind II, 2009
- hammer-raised fine silver 999
- Represented by Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon
- Lino Tagliapietra
- Maui, 2009
- photo: Russell Johnson
- Represented by Heller Gallery
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