Plop down on this SOFA
The international art fair gets crafty at Navy Pier.
In previous years, the word craft was omitted, by design, from the promotional materials distributed by the organizers of the Sculpture Objects & Functional Art (SOFA) fair. In short, it was considered a pejorative term by many in the field. (Witness the name change of the American Craft Museum in New York a few years ago to the Museum of Arts & Design or, closer to home, the Racine Art Museum—which is all about craft, though you wouldn’t know it by the name.)
It’s an old issue, but the organizers of this year’s 14th annual SOFA—which begins Friday 2 with more than 100 galleries displaying “masterworks bridging design and fine art”—finally addressed it by sliding a new term into their brochures: post-craft.
Mark Lyman, founder of SOFA, broached the matter earlier this year by posting a short essay titled “Craft or Post-Craft?” on SOFA’s website. Lyman wrote: “Over the years, the word craft…failed to capture the essence of the new expressions being created from traditional materials, and from time-honored, virtuoso techniques applied to new media.”
Whether you see a distinction or not, there is no shortage of beautiful stuff here made of glass, wood, metal, clay, natural fibers, plastics and found objects. It ranges from practical vessels to decorative works that subvert tradition—like Chris Antemann’s kitschy ceramic figurines (pictured). Even if you consider Meissen-like porcelains fussy and permanently outdated (and maybe especially if you do), Antemann’s narrative work is weirdly delightful. Antemann—a 2000 M.F.A. grad who spent a few years as resident artist at Archie Bray, the famed Helena, Montana, nonprofit center for ceramic arts—is represented by the Massachusetts-based Ferrin Gallery.
Those seeking a more restrained style will find it in the ceramics of Jun Kaneko, represented at SOFA by the Kansas City–based Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art. Born in Japan in 1942, Kaneko came to the States in 1964 to study in Los Angeles. His monolithic dangos (Japanese for “dumpling”) are like three-dimensional paintings. Elsewhere, the unadorned stoneware of Lucie Rie (1902–1995) are fine examples of modernist studio pottery. Rie was born in Vienna but moved to England in the late 1930s. London’s Galerie Besson features her highly prized work.
At SOFA, masters coexist with emerging talent, but you have to look hard to find new work: Consider it part of the fun of strolling through the massive hall at Navy Pier. Year after year brings much of the same, but rather than feeling jaded, study the skill and technique. Or just keep moving until something catches your eye—there are always surprises. A few years ago, we spotted a rep from the Beatrice Wood Studio (whose eponymous founder died in 1998 at 105) selling pieces from the flamboyant potter’s California estate.
Jewelry collectors will find sanctuary at Ornamentum (Hudson, New York) and Sienna Gallery (Lenox, Massachusetts). The latter represents the work of a fave, Melanie Bilenker, who makes delicate drawings of hair encased in epoxy resin and set in gold.
Commerce aside, SOFA always features exhibits and a lecture series. The sobering “Offering Reconciliation” showcases the work of 135 Palestinian and Israeli painters, sculptors and photographers who were invited to address the theme of peace. You can still shop: All the works will be sold online and 15 have been selected for a live auction Friday to benefit Parents Circle–Families Forum, a nonprofit supporting Palestinians and Israelis whose lives have been hit by violence.
Local art patron extraordinaire John Bryan also loaned a portion of his collection for view. “Contemporary Furniture at Crab Tree Farm” features handmade furniture and work by British designer John Makepeace.
Whether or not post-craft becomes part of the vocabulary remains to be seen. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on work by more than 1,300 artists who are very good at their craft.
SOFA Chicago 2007 gets comfy Friday 2 through Sunday 4. For details, visit sofaexpo.com.