How to Diagnose SOFA Fatigue

Posted November 27, 2011 in Blog

This week, HCCC Curator, Anna Walker, and Curatorial Fellow, Susie J. Silbert, share their thoughts on their recent trip to SOFA Chicago and the inevitable “SOFA Fatigue” that follows. This phenomenon occurs after spending several days looking at hundreds of objects and talking with numerous individuals at SOFA, the Sculpture Objects and Functional Art fair on Navy Pier. The annual event takes place the first weekend of November and is the longest running art fair in Chicago (18 years). This year, the fair featured over 60 galleries with work from around the world. After several days of air kisses, handshakes, conversations and close-looking at objects, our curatorial duo returned to Houston enlightened but fatigued.

SOFA Chicago 2011. Photo courtesy SOFA Chicago.

SOFA Chicago 2011. Photo courtesy SOFA Chicago.

What Are the Signs of SOFA Fatigue?

Glazed Expression
With so many galleries and a section of five featured partner exhibits, there is a lot of art to go through. SOFA is a serious event, and many of the galleries make the most of their small 10’ x 10’ space. For example, Ornamentum featured the work of three jewelry artists: Eunmi Chun, Caroline Gore, and Laura Prieto-Velasco. While these artists were highlighted with work displayed prominently on the walls, one could spend hours investigating the many drawers of works by other Ornamentum artists.

While we walked through the aisles, the “Solo at SOFA” booths provided a nice pause and rest for our eyes between the many spaces that were filled with work. These were spaces to feature the work by a single artist, and the booth featuring Devin Burgess did not disappoint. His carefully formed works were elegantly displayed in front of stripes of contrasting colors. With a similar attention to space and the careful selection of works, Heller Gallery chose works that filled the walls without overwhelming the area.

Eunmi Chun, Gorilla (Brooch), 2010. Human hair, gold leaf, small intestine of cow, seeds, silver. 13 x 14 x 10 cm

Laura Prieto-Velasco. Charm (Ring), 2011. Iron wire, latex paint, twist ties, gold plated silver. 3 x 2.2 x 1.8”. Photo courtesy Ornamentum, Hudson NY.

Devin Burgess, Traces. Blown glass, wheel cut surfaces. 23x16x12 inches.

Shoulder Strain
Shoulder strain is a common sign that your colleague has attended SOFA Chicago. Each day at the event presents a new opportunity to not only view work but talk with individuals, exchange business cards and, in the case of a few friends, acquire catalogues. The gentlemen at Thalen & Thalen had a beautiful catalogue available for sale alongside the delicate silver works. Each of these paper items was added to the familiar blue tote bag carried by all that includes the large, “official” SOFA catalogue.

Besides gallery areas, SOFA includes a resource area for nonprofit organizations to set up tables and promote memberships and publications. Among these tables, we met with many of our colleagues from fellow nonprofits, including the venerable Namita Wiggers, curator from the Museum of Contemporary Craft, and one of the jurors for the NCECA 2013 Biennial we are hosting at HCCC. Along with Namita, ceramicist Cristina Cordova will be a juror for NCECA 2013. Cordova shows with Ann Nathan Gallery and had a wonderful collaboration on display with Pablo Soto. Speaking of jurors, we also met with Jean McLaughlin, Executive Director of Penland School of Crafts, and one of the jurors for the upcoming CraftTexas 2012 exhibition at HCCC next fall. (The call for artists is open now through March 15, 2012, at

How to Prevent SOFA Fatigue

Take Breaks
For us, taking a break meant finding a spot to sit and read one of the many publications available for free from the resource area at SOFA. These included American Craft Magazine, Ceramics Monthly, Glass Art Quarterly and Metalsmith Magazine. While we would have loved to have a seat on the sumptuous work by Vivian Beer at Wexler Gallery, we knew better and instead sought out an available bench.

Take Snacks
Take actual snacks—a granola bar or an apple will do. Without snacks, one might begin to consider the possibility of eating from the decadent collage of frozen-in-time glassware created by Beth Lipman at Heller Gallery. We are excited to see what this amazing glass artist creates for an upcoming exhibit, The Tool at Hand, curated by Ethan Lasser of the Chipstone Foundation and opening at the Milwaukee Art Museum in a few weeks. In this exhibit, 14 artists were challenged to make a work using only one tool. The show will then travel to HCCC in the summer of 2013.

Beth Lipman, Whatnot I, 2010 Glass, glue, wood, paint. 84 x 42 x 30 Photo courtesy of Eva Heyd

Start Early
SOFA opens to the public at 11 a.m. However, if you have a VIP pass, you can get in at 10 a.m., and it’s necessary to go early if you want to see any work. We enjoyed marveling at work by Mark Peiser at Wexler Gallery that caught the light and presented a luminescence, drawing us in from far away. The jewelry exhibition of work by current and recent Cranbrook graduates, along with the Geography exhibition by Art Jewelry Forum, were also not to be missed. Walking through and identifying the work in the Cranbrook booth was an artistic experience in itself, thanks to the finely drawn map by Amy Weiks.

Starting early not only applies to the fair, but also to the networking that happens when hundreds of professionals in one field descend upon a city. We were happy to connect with neighbor Paula Owen, President of the Southwest School of Art, and learn about an upcoming exhibit featuring the work of Sonya Clark.

With these helpful tips and links, you’ll be ready to make the most of your next trip to SOFA and avoid the glazed eyes, sore shoulders, and zombie-like state of SOFA Fatigue!

–Anna Walker & Susie Silbert