Sunday, June 01, 2008

Report from SOFA NY 2008

On Sunday I went to the Park Avenue Armory to check out this year's SOFA New York. As usual, it was filled with extraordinary art jewelry, tour de force glass work, and dramatic vessels rendered in all sorts of materials and processes, not to mention throngs of cheerful Upper East Side collectors clambering to see the latest offerings from their favorite galleries.

SOFA is never a subtle show, and in fact galleries showing more minimal work often get upstaged by the dazzle and scale of works in surrounding booths. It's sort of like a mall for high-end, meticulously-crafted baubles where booth after booth competes to win attention, sometimes showing substantial, engaging, and beautiful work, yet more often tipping hopelessly into the realm of gaudiness, superficiality, and studio craft cliche. I am glad it is a smallish affair -- 67 galleries are exhibiting this year -- because it's easy to get visually overloaded. But there is always some outstanding work to see, so this show is worth the price of admission, and absolutely worth patronizing if you are a collector.

Topping my list of high points once again this year is Sienna Gallery. While there is amazing art jewelry in a number of booths -- I look forward to checking out Ornamentum, Charon Kransen Arts, and Jewelers' Werk Galerie every year -- Sienna Patti somehow manages to take it further, changing it up year after year, showing thoughtful, distinctive art jewelry and, more and more, visual art. Of particular note this year: Lauren Fensterstock's constructions of black paper quilling and charcoal, Jamie Bennett's enameled jewelry, and Lauren Kalman's photographs of herself modeling very unexpected gold jewelry. Sienna has a truly gifted eye.

Snyderman-Works Galleries also didn't disappoint, once again showing a very well-selected collection of work in various media. I especially liked Jocelyn Chateaurent's waist-length necklace with a large fiber fig leaf pendant wryly titled "Adam."

In the ceramics category, London's Galerie Besson impressed me again this year, particularly with new constructions by Neil Brownsword -- a young ceramicist who is very much one to watch -- and astonishing bowls by the late Lucy Rie.

A welcome newcomer to SOFA, Drud & Koppe Gallery from Denmark showed a fresh group of "contemporary objects," unequivocally demonstrating the point that craft does speak different languages, and exposure to these unfamiliar takes greatly enhances the overall experience of craft.

Also of note: amazing contortionistic Japanese baskets at Tai Gallery; stunning glass work by modern master Lino Tagliapietora and surreal glass "specimen panels" by Steffen Dam at Heller Gallery; Gianfranco Angelino's inlaid wooden bowls at del Mano Gallery; fine and deliciously odd paintings on wood by Megumi Nagai at Onishi Gallery; and David Samplonius' wall-mounted shelf made from walnut, aluminum, and animal hide, and Vanessa Yanow's zoomorphic glass and organza sculptures at Option Art.

I am hopeful that next year, when SOFA's dates change to fall during the ICFF and New York Design Week, the show will attract even more galleries showing innovative and relevant work, and start to shed its stuffy, fusty reputation. Because this show has enormous potential to be a very exciting event, and should attract more younger collectors and visitors, not just furniture makers and glass blowing students.

Or maybe this move will spark something like a Craft Week, with satellite shows featuring emerging galleries popping up the way art fairs spawn spin-off shows around the city, as we proposed last year on the blog after SOFA. I'm already excited for next year...

Posted by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.
Images top to bottom:
Lauren Kalman at Sienna Gallery, Lauren Fensterstock at Sienna Gallery, Gianfranco Angelino at del Mano Gallery, Megumi Nagai at Onishi Gallery, Neil Brownsword at Galerie Besson, and Hideaki Honma at Tai Gallery.

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