Sunday, June 03, 2007

Greenjeans Review: SOFA New York

This weekend I went to check out SOFA New York at the Park Avenue Armory. SOFA, which stands for Sculptural Objects and Functional Art, is a show for mostly high-end galleries that traffic in decorative and/or functional work designed and made by artists and artisans primarily from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

In other words, it's a show full of high-end craft that no one wants to refer to as craft. The word "craft" hardly appears at all; at SOFA it's pretty much all "art." In keeping with this camp, the beneficiary of the opening night gala is the former American Craft Museum, now officially the Museum of Arts and Design.

Whatever they want to call the objects within, the show presents a mixed bag of them, with art jewelry, fiber art, and ceramics making especially strong showings, lots of studio glass that escaped my comprehension, and the kind of iffy 3-D figural work that does more to blur the line between "good" and "bad" sculpture than the line between art and craft.

Sienna Gallery (Lenox, MA) showed my favorite works at SOFA this year: Esther Knobel's pierced and sewn silver brooches (shown) and the wonderful etchings she makes using the same technique. I love how she uses the fronts and backs of the sewn plates for the prints, transferring not only the image but also the ends of the threads onto the paper. Sienna's gorgeous booth also featured great enamel pieces by Barbara Seidenath and Susie Ganch, and Melanie Bilenker's pendants and brooches that feature fine "drawings" done in hair.

Ornamentum (Hudson, NY) and Gallery Gainro (Seoul, South Korea) also showed very strong art jewelry selections this year.

Other highlights included:

Astonishingly beautiful and complex Japanese baskets at TAI Gallery (Santa Fe).

Poetic bowls by the venerable British potter Lucie Rie at Galerie Besson (London).

Small intricate turned and carved wood sculptures, such as the "bonsai tree" shown here, by Alain Mailland, and Michael Peterson's hollowed out wooden "beams," at del Mano Gallery (Los Angeles).

Noriko Tsuji's strange glass tubes suspended in wooden frames at Urban Glass (Brooklyn).

Nice examples by American ceramics mavens Betty Woodman and Beatrice Wood appeared together at Donna Schneier Fine Arts (New York, NY).

Ferrin Gallery (Lenox, MA) showed Chris Antemann's postmodern porcelain figurines (shown top) and Richard Notkin's war-themed teapots.

browngrotta arts (Wilton, CT) showed great fiber art, including a surprisingly beautiful wall piece comprised of long strands of hand painted threads in peacock blues and purples, colors that I normally associate with the kitschier side of fiber art but in this case just sing, by Ulla Maija Vikman.

Beautiful conceptual ceramic works at Joanna Bird Pottery (London), almost all of which I loved, including vessels made from clay and industrial waste, wide porcelain "vases" that are torn down one side, and groups of fine porcelain cups, all by artists I failed to note...

Snyderman-Works Gallery (Philadelphia, PA) showed elongated embroidery work by Xiang Yang (shown). Besides these large works, they also offered smaller versions in clear plastic salad to-go containers, featuring smaller figures and the exaggerated stitches.

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention that I'm a total sucker for Paul Stankard's amazing orbs/paperweights that are filled with plants, flowers, bees, and leaves all rendered in lampworked glass. Marx-Saunders Gallery (Chicago) showed them again this year, and as usual I practically drooled all over them. They don't look great in photos, but in person, whoa!

I had a nice conversation with Mark Dean at Dean Project's small green booth, as I was curious what his "project" is. He explained that he's working to take ceramic art out of the marginalized craft context and bring it into the art gallery and art market. He deals with ceramic artists whose work is more idea- or concept-driven than, say, the average potter who relies more on the effects of fire and ash than the direction of the mind. Dean, who has taken over the former Garth Clark space in Long Island City, Queens, mostly exhibits work by his artists (such as Philip Eglin, pictured) at contemporary art fairs, including SCOPE (the satellite art fair that runs simultaneous to the Armory Show). But SOFA allows him to reach the more craft-oriented collector as well.

Insightfully, he told me that there's a stark difference between the kinds of questions people ask at art fairs and what they ask at SOFA. At art fairs, they want to know why a figure's arm is intentionally broken, or what this or that image is about. At SOFA, people are more interested in technique and process, wanting to know how the artist applied a transfer image into the clay, and so forth. This, for Dean, is the essential difference between art and craft (at least in terms of markets): art is concept-filled, and craft is about the practice. Neither is better or worse, he opined, but there is definitely a difference.

Perhaps, though I think there's less of a dividing line, and don't agree that relying more on the behavior of fire and ash than on literal concepts renders a work non-art. But it was great to see a younger dealer at SOFA who has ideas for bringing work made in craft traditions out of the ghetto and into the spotlight.

1 comment:

kate said...

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