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SOFA Chicago 2009 Three Day Wrap Report: The Fear is Gone
Suzi Trubitz, "Continuum", 2008. Silicon plate bronze, plasma torch flame cutting. 50 x 27 x 24 inches. Photo: Rob DeFoe/Jeremy Ball. Represented by Maria Elena Kravetz, Cordoba, Argentina.

CHICAGO, IL.- Crowds packed the 16th SOFA CHICAGO Opening Night gala on November 5, with Festival Hall security estimating over 3200 - 3500 people attending over the course of the evening. 31,000 people visited the fair during its three day run, sponsored by Chubb Personal Insurance. Mark Lyman, Founder/ Director of SOFA fairs in Chicago, New York and Santa Fe says, "It was exciting to see the growing number of 'next generation' buyers on the show floor." He adds that many dealers reported not only new and younger clients, but also a palpable rise in buying confidence with a strong bounce-back in sales. "Collectors gave themselves permission to buy again--at all price levels."

The highlight of Opening Night for many, however, was much more personal--a benefit tribute dinner honoring the late Sam Maloof, a MacArthur Fellow, whose furniture was world-renowned for its sweeping sculptural style and exquisite hand-craftsmanship. Planned and co-chaired by an esteemed committee that included Chicago arts patrons Joan Harris and John H. Bryan, and designer Jack Lenor Larsen, the dinner program included touching reminiscences by friends and colleagues including Don Reitz and Tom Loeser. Perhaps the most memorable was delivered by Mike Johnson, one of the three "boys" who Sam trained for many years to continue hand-building his signature furniture. Larry White, David Wade and Mike Johnson's impeccable artistry was on view alongside Sam's final pieces in the SOFA special exhibit, "The Legacy Continues: Sam Maloof Woodworking, Inc.", one of five special exhibits mounted at the fair. Proceeds from the tribute benefited the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, Anderson Ranch Arts Center Maloof Scholarship Fund, and the Furniture Society Scholarship Program.

Savvy SOFA dealers were poised for the market up-turn and "went for it" at the fair, sparing no expense presenting their best artists in major presentations. Their optimism paid off with major sales in the high six figures. Of special mention was the exhibit of Litvak Gallery from Tel-Aviv, whose blackbox installation of large-scale Spheres by the Czech master of optical glass, Vaclav Ciglar, raised the bar once again for booth design. Ciglar's mystically self-reflective, large-scale egg forms sold well, as did the surreal, allegorical sculpture, chandeliers and goblets by the Venetian virtuoso of flame-worked glass, Lucio Bubacco. German sculptor Julius Weiland, new to SOFA, was an instant hit with collectors, with the gallery selling fused glass tubes and acrylic composite works in the five figure range; as well as several large kiln-cast cast glass pieces by the Netherlands's Peter Bremers that express the fragility of the changing Antarctic landscape.

A major sale at Heller Gallery, New York, which also mounted an expansive exhibit that alternately dazzled and expressively beckoned the viewer, was a monumental Stanislav Libenský/ Jaroslava Brychtová glass sculpture called "Red Crater", recently cast from a 1990’s design by Ms. Brychtova, the late Libensky’s life-partner and collaborator. Heller says of the fair, “We had a very strong opening and follow-up sales. Some of our most ambitious pieces were the first to go, which speaks to the sophistication of the attendees. In general, people seemed more at ease with the economic situation, more aware of where they stood personally, which raised their comfort level for acquiring masterworks.” Other top Heller sales were three life-size glass table sculptures by Beth Lipman, reminiscent of 17th and 18th-century still-life paintings, each overloaded with 50 to 100 pieces of glittering tableware and food delicacies, quite literally ‘over the top’ with excess.

Other sardonic artworks commenting on the recent intemperance sold big at Ferrin Gallery of Pittsfield, MA. Most notable among them Chris Antemann’s 40” long table sculpture "Vignette", depicting a playfully debauched dinner party in porcelain, decals and luster. Young iconoclasts, many new to SOFA, presented in Ferrin’s Illusculptors’ themed show of sculpture with narrative content, with buyers snapping up all nine of young Seth Rainville’s pieces and Latino Geraldo Monterrubio’s tattoo-inspired porcelain surface illustrations on socially relevant forms like a methamphetamine pipe. Leslie Ferrin said she was delighted with the new SOLO at SOFA project. “It was a great opportunity to experiment with showing, in-depth, younger and more conceptual artists like Anne Lemanski”—selling two of Lemanski’s “endangered” animal sculptures of copper wire and “skins” of various materials.

Other dealers ambitiously mounting major presentations were Schantz/Holsten Galleries of Stockbridge, MA and Santa Fe, NM, featuring Italian maestro Lino Tagliapetra, selling a half-dozen of his newest, virtuoso glass sculptures in the five figures and up, some with such delicate and luminous patterning, they resembled finely woven fabric. Jim Schantz and Kenn Holsten partnered together at SOFA after Holsten’s recent sale of the Berkshires gallery to Schantz, his gallery director for 27 years. The two will continue to collaborate closely. Holsten, who plans to build the www.holstengalleries website into “the world’s finest” virtual glass gallery, says, “Collectors are looking to buy again.” Schantz agrees—“This SOFA had more energy than any in the last three or four years.”

Carole Hochman, Director of Barry Friedman, Ltd. of New York agreed that collectors are buying again but still inclined to “buy the best,” adding that the collector base in attendance on Opening Night was “pretty phenomenal.” She said they had done well at SOFA with a strong sampling of Barry Friedman’s on-going "New York show Venice: 3 Visions in Glass", featuring Cristiano Bianchin, Yoichi Ohira, and Laura de Santillana. Also selling well was Toots Zynsky’s lustrous hot thread pulled, cane glass vessels. Victor Armendariz of Chicago’s venerable Ann Nathan Gallery agreed that “a strong collector base is here” and that “people are now ready to buy again. We hear much less complaining about the economy and everyone seems excited and very much in the moment…We’ve had a good show.” Top seller at Ann Nathan was Cristina Cordova’s existentially beautiful, ceramic and mixed media sculptures.

We’ve done very well,” says Matthew Hall of Galerie Besson, London, calling Opening Night, “a fabulous scene, a real blockbuster.” Sales included four of Shozo Michikawa’s dramatically faceted and twisted ceramic sculptures, whose organic forms are nevertheless functional pottery; 16 of 18 small, glazed and saggar fired porcelain vessels forms arranged in groupings by Deirdre Hawthorne; and a major sculptural work in four pieces referencing the natural landforms of his native Catalonia by Spain’s famed Claudi Casanovas.

Collectors snapped up twelve of the large blown and sand-carved glass bowls, and ceremonial Northwest Native American pipe forms by Tammy Garcia and Preston Singletary at Santa Fe’s Blue Rain Gallery. Leroy Garcia says, “We’ve met new clients as well as return SOFA and gallery clients. It’s been great. We’re very pleased.” Garcia said he and other dealers noticed a younger demographic and he hopes, a growing pool of new collectors.

William Zimmer Gallery of Mendocino, CA mounted an ambitious and most impressive exhibit entitled "A Studio Furniture Rendezvous", which Bill Zimmer says brought together “the best of the community of artists who design and personally make their own furniture in America today…(and) which strongly confirms that Sam Maloof's passing, while leaving a colossal void, does not creates a vacuum. Rather, it shifts the spotlight to his worthy successors who were inspired by him to make studio furniture of their own.” Sales included pieces by Tai Lake and David Ebners, which Zimmer says “are strong on material and line—very fine examples of mid-twentieth century furniture design.”

Art jewelry dealer Charon Kransen of New York agreed that “a lot of people seem willing to buy again, having gotten over the shock of the shaky economy, and are spending money again. Sales have been surprisingly strong.” Kransen singled out the mysteriously “alive” jewelry of Mirjam Hiller, Italian master Giovanni Corvaja and Liv Blavarp’s carved, sculptural wooden necklaces inspired by her native Norwegian traditions, as top sellers. Kransen credited Hiller’s SOFA lecture series presentation with boosting sales of her work, a sentiment offered by dealers and artists participating in the popular forum. A record 33 lectures over two days were attended by 2900 persons and speaker, Frank Maraschiello, Vice President, and Director of 20th-Century Decorative Art, Bonhams, stopped into the show office to compliment Anne Meszko, Director of Educational Programming, on SOFA’s wonderful lecture series and special exhibits, adding “The fair was one of the strongest in recent memory. There was great enthusiasm—and great material.”

Sienna Patti of Sienna Gallery, Lenox, MA relayed a story about a younger woman who purchased a photograph of Lauren Kalman’s socially challenging jewelry, confiding that it was her very first art purchase. Sienna says, “It was very touching and the reason I love being a dealer. And we loved the SOLO at SOFA booth featuring Kalman and Arthur Hash, having “almost sold out of all the (bright steel and mixed media) Hash bracelets,” by Saturday morning. “Nearly half” of German born, RISD faculty member Barbara Siedenath’s subtly bejeweled, enameled brooches displayed under large bell jars had also sold by then. Overall she says people “are really responding to contemporary jewelry displayed as sculpture.” Ditto says Stefan Freidmann of Ornamentum, Hudson, NY who also reported having a very good show and whose top sale was a cross-over piece, "Beautiful Accident Bag", by Dutch jeweler and object artist, Ted Noten.

Long-time secondary market dealer Donna Schneier of Donna Schneier Fine Arts, Palm Beach, FL perhaps summed up the mood on the show floor best—“The fear is gone.” Sales in her booth were very strong and included seminal works by such luminaries as Lino Tagliapietra, Dale Chihuly, Beatrice Wood, Harvey Littleton, Michael Lucero and Bertil Vallien—“We had a great fair.”

But SOFA is more than just a marketplace. It is a gathering place, where people from all parts of the world, come together to exchange ideas as well as artworks. On the design front, Chicago native and New York designer George Larson welcomed designers on behalf of the SOFA Designer Committee at the well-attended Designer Breakfast on Friday morning, where guests enjoyed a champagne breakfast and an exclusive preview of the Fair, before it opened to the general public.

Douglas Heller of Heller Gallery says, “One thing that always impresses us is the very satisfying social interactions at the fair, both private and organized.” A dozen national collector and museum groups were in attendance, including the James Renwick Alliance of the Smithsonian Institution, Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, Collectors of Wood Art and Art Jewelry Forum, many holding annual meetings and award ceremonies at the fair. Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts of Newcastle, ME held its LEGENDS Gala Award Dinner at the Arts Club of Chicago on Friday night, honoring legendary ceramic artists Ruth Duckworth, Jim Melchert, Don Reitz and Toshiko Takaezu, which benefit tribute was made all the more poignant by the recent passing of Duckworth, Chicago’s own modern master.

Mark Lyman concludes, “SOFA is a close-knit community. Despite a tough economy and the recent deaths of Sam Maloof and Ruth Duckworth, everyone rallied to enjoy a wonderful weekend of art and camaraderie. Many thanks to Chubb Personal Insurance for its major support of the fair and handsome VIP Lounge. We look forward to seeing everyone again at SOFA NEW YORK in April and SOFA WEST: Santa Fe in July.”

SOFA CHICAGO | Mark Lyman | Douglas Heller | Sienna Patti | Donna Schneier |

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