SOFA Flâneur

Posted December 4, 2012 in Blog

William Morris, “Raven Jar,” 1999. Blown glass with steel stand. 34 x 15 x 10 in. Photo courtesy of SOFA Chicago.

This week, our Curatorial Fellow, Kathryn Hall, shares her experience at the 19th Annual Sculpture Objects & Functional Art + Design Fair (SOFA). Christening her first week at HCCC, Kathryn embarked upon her first trip to SOFA Chicago at Navy Pier with HCCC colleagues, Suzanne Sippel and Kara Niles. As the longest standing art fair in Chicago, the 2012 fair featured nearly 70 top international galleries and dealers. Maintaining a voice at this year’s Fair, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft held a resource table among other respectable nonprofits at the Partners Pavilion.

Taking a cue from 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, I adopted the role of flâneur at this year’s SOFA Chicago. Blending into the crowd of curators, publishers, artists, and buyers, I kept an open ear for the daily SOFA buzz and an eye out for this year’s emerging artists. With a list of must-see galleries and last year’s blog entry on “SOFA Fatigue,” I was well equipped for the lectures, networking opportunities, and gallery visits.

On the first day, I meandered through rows of 10’ by 10’ booths, taking photos of works that I found interesting and noting which galleries deserved a second look. In true flâneur fashion, I kept a certain level of anonymity, soaking up tidbits of information from other attendees and scrutinizing the visual spectacles beheld in each gallery space. With each passing day, a contagion of red sale stickers spread from booth to booth. Some stickers highlighted the sale of a blockbuster piece, such as the glasswork of William Morris, while others recognized an emerging talent. Getting a pulse on the market, I questioned gallery attendants about pricing, their displays, and the artists they represented. I also spoke with several publishers who were scavenging for their next book deal. More eye opening than anything else, there were artists in many of the gallery spaces available to answer questions about their process and the concepts behind their work. Here are a few galleries that I found interesting:

Ann Nathan Gallery—Chicago

Walking into the Fair, I couldn’t help but notice ceramic artist Cristina Córdova’s emotive life-size figure, La Evolution de un Animo. Evocative of the human condition, the statue held a strong presence at the Fair’s entrance. In March, look for Córdova at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference in Houston. HCCC is proud to host the 2013 NCECA Biennial, where Córdova will serve on the panel of judges.

Craft Scotland—Edinburgh

Sporting around traditional Scottish regalia, the artists at Craft Scotland drew in flocks of visitors.  At first lured in by the novelty of their kilts, I was later struck by the quality and diversity of the artwork on display. Featuring sculptural installations and decorative tableware, Lizzie Farey’s basketry of interlaced materials from the Scottish landscape was enchanting. Mimicking the shape of bird’s nests and cozy burrows, Farey revealed the beauty beheld in natural habitats. Adding wit to the booth, ceramicist Rebecca Wilson’s re-purpose of found porcelain and bone china critiqued our notions of femininity. Her catchy titles, such as Gimme Some Sugar, spoke directly about the saccharine nature ingrained in the tea-set aesthetic. The sugar bowl’s pink floral pattern, gold trim, and dainty feet played with the femininity of the object and ultimately that of its owner.  Adding strength to the booth, Craig Stuart’s jewelry captivated the viewer by his mastery of the traditional Japanese mokume gane technique. Originally developed to forge swords and weapons, Craig employed the technique to fuse 18-carat white and yellow gold with platinum into ornate wood-grain patterns.

Charon Kransen Arts—New York

Charon Kransen Arts presented a delightfully refreshing and thought-provoking array of jewelry. While many of the collections begged to be touched, others took up residence on the gallery shelf and walls. Drawing from her heritage and time spent in Greece, Efharis Alepedis brought the depths of the Mediterranean to SOFA. Using precious materials from the sea, Alepedis enhanced her polyp-like brooches and necklaces with eel skin and red coral. In contrast to Alepedis’ work, Robert Longyear’s colorful shacks were indicative of an industrial wasteland. The scale of Longyear’s scrap metal constructions turned a potential eyesore found in an urban landscape into an object of aesthetic admiration.

Above, left to right: Lizzie Farey, “Convergence,” 2012. Ash. 44 x 26 cm. Photo courtesy of SOFA Chicago. Craig Stuart, “Mokume Gane Discus Neckpiece,” 2011. White gold, 22 k gold and diamond. 50 cm x 50 mm wide. Photo courtesy of Sally Broughton, Craft Scotland.

Above: from left to right: Efharis Alepedis, Coral Necklace and Brooches, 2010. Eel skin, red coral, gold leaf, red patent leather, epoxy resin. Robert Longyear, Brooches. Sterling, copper, insulation.

When exhibiting signs of “SOFA Fatigue,” the HCCC resource table provided me with a necessary place to gather my thoughts. It also gave me an opportunity to interact with potential Artist-in-Residence applicants and those interested in visiting HCCC on their next trip to Houston. As a newly minted addition to the HCCC staff, I learned a lot from Kara and Suzanne as they addressed visitors’ questions.

In summation, this year’s SOFA Chicago was a quintessential introduction to the field.  Embracing the role of the flâneur, I was able to absorb a great deal of information about contemporary craft and the interplay between art, craft, and design. I made many connections, bonded with my colleagues, and gained inspiration for future exhibitions. It was a most memorable way to initiate my term at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, leaving a lasting impression.

–Kathryn Hall, HCCC Curatorial Fellow