SOFA Chicago sees increase of ‘young collectors’

CHICAGO — Crowds packed the 16th International Exposition of Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Chicago Opening Night gala on Nov. 5, with Navy Pier Festival Hall security estimating 3,200-3,500 in attendance over the course of the evening; 31,000 visitors attended over the course of the three-day fair, which was sponsored by Chubb Personal Insurance.

Mark Lyman, Founder/Director of SOFA fairs in Chicago, New York and Santa Fe said, “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.

Other sardonic artworks commenting on the recent intemperance sold big at Ferrin Gallery of Pittsfield, Mass. Most notable among them Chris Antemann’s 40-inch 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, Mass., and Santa Fe, N.M., 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 Web site 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.

“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 12 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.

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, Maine, 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.

“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,” Lyman said.

SOFA is online at


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