SOFA 2009 Preview

Text by Jeriah Hildwine
Photos by Stephanie Burke

The sixteenth annual Sculpture Objects and Functional Art Fair is now underway at Chicago's Navy Pier, and my wife Stephanie Burke and I were invited to preview the show.  The show was still being installed when we visited, but most of the work was up, and what we saw included both what I have come to consider traditional SOFA fare, and some pleasant surprises.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of SOFA is glass, especially after last year's rock-star exhibition by Lucio Bubacco.  There was glass aplenty this year, to be sure, but it didn't steal the show so thoroughly as it did last year. 

I also associate SOFA with wood, which is anything was even stronger this year than last.  A full year later I still hold vivid memories of Mark Levin's Vivaldi Leaf Hall Table.  This year the standout piece of wood has got to be the rocking chair by Sam Maloof. 


del Mano, Los Angeles, California. Sam Maloof, rocking chair $56,000


Maloof's table is an example of exactly the kind of work I come to SOFA expecting to see: 

traditional, functional, and beautiful.  What I do not so much expect to encounter at SOFA is work that is cutting-edge, challenging, critical, or conceptual.  While you won't find any pump-up plastic bag cats (link to YouTube) or tiny balls of an artist's feces (link to Tom Friedman), there is definately a lot of work at SOFA that pushes at the margins of our expectations of luxury furnishings.


Tip Toland "Grace Flirts"

One of the first works that jumped out at me as unexpected was at Duane Reed Gallery (Booth #320, from St. Louis, MO).  Toland's work presents simple human tableaux in ceramic much as Ron Mueck does in silicone.


Lee Satish Tang "Manga Ormolu 5.0-b" (right sculpture)

Another ceramic piece, Brendan Lee Satish Tang's Manga Ormolu 5.0-b. (at Option Art, Booth #300, from Montreal, Canada) plays with some of our conceptions of material and culture, combining traditional Asian ceramics with imagery from contemporary Japanese popular culture.  The word ormolu is an 18th Century English term for gilding bronze, and can also refer to gilt bronze mountings made for the then-novel and exotic Chinese ceramics, transforming them into luxury objects suitable for display by the European elite (rather like three-dimensional frames).  In Tang's statement he acknowledges this reference and states his intention as being to "subvert elitism with the accessibility of popular culture."  One could argue that the elitists have had the last laugh by displaying the work in this setting, but the synthesis of old and new Asian art forms in an update of an antiquated European practice of appropriation (and attempted assimilation) is a witty and appropriate tribute to Tang's self-described mixed ethnicity.


Ted Noten's piece (on pedestal)

Ted Noten's piece at Ornamentum, Booth #302, from Hudson, New York.  A gold Walther PPK encased in glass or, more probably, acrylic resin in the shape of a handbag, topped with a fur rim and snakeskin handles.  Check out Noten's website, he does a lot of fun work, with a little more "bite" to it than most craft and jewelry type work.  This is another piece I wouldn't mind owning.


Dirk Staschke, Premonition, 2008. Ceramic, taxidermied bird, and mixed media. $14,500. At Wexler Gallery, Booth #520, from Philadelphia, PA.

Staschke's Premonition, a flayed arm holding a taxidermied bird, looks like what I'd expect if Gunter Von Hagens got hold of David Attenborough.  It's creepy, it's pretty, and I like it.  At $14,500, it's not cheap, but it would be easy to spend a lot more, and get a lot less.  If I were a rich collector, this is one piece I would be strongly considering.


Carol Shinn, "House in Shadow" $3,600, or "Prairie Building," $3,600. Freestyle machine stitching on fabric. From Jane Sauer, Booth #420 from Santa Fe, New Mexico

Shinn's landscapes reminded me of some embroidered portrait's I'd seen in New American Paintings a while bay, by Cayce Zavaglia.  Embroidery used to be a common form of image-making (the Bayeux Tapestry isn't actually a tapestry, which are woven, but is in fact an embroidery on linen) and it's good to see that it's still around, especially by someone as skilled at it as Shinn.


Philip Soosloff's pieces

Philip Soosloff at Thomas P. Riley Gallery, Booth #620.  Soosloff's use of anamorphic perspective is part of a long and diverse tradition including Julian Beever, Evan Penny, Erin Whitman, all the way back to Hans Holbein.


Andrea Salvador's mosaics

Some other works that caught my eye were at Berengo Studio 1989, (Tokyo, Venice, Booth #900), William Morris' Trophy (one at $68,000, one at $65,000) also at Wexler, and Anna Williams' "Squadron," a SOFA Solo at #1002 and represented by Lafreniece and Pai, Ottawa, Canada.


Anna Williams' "Squadron"

Be sure to check out Chicago's own Ann Nathan, Booth #307.  I'm a big fan of the paintings she shows at her gallery in River North and at Art Chicago; at SOFA she shows more sculptural work.  I don't have any images as they were still installing when I was there, but it's worth a look.

I'm still waiting for the day when SOFA starts showing ivory dildos, but in the mean time, there's a lot to see, and it's not all what you might expect.

[Editor's Full Disclosure Note: SOFA is an advertiser of our sister site,, However, it's a chicken and the egg scenario because we wanted them to advertise with us because we knew we were going to cover the show anyway. Our advertising agreement did not include this post.] 


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