While SOFA CHICAGO never disappoints in the abundance of beauty or the apparent mastery of the materials, I am most intrigued by the conceptual voracity that is so equally matched by stunning technique. The work presented at this year’s event was significant, engaging, rich with ideas, and beautifully crafted. After hours on the floor, I left feeling inspired, educated, and most importantly: breathless. With a fair that presents nearly a thousand artists, it can be a challenge to select a few favorite pieces. Frankly, it can be a challenge to remember the pieces you liked after just several rows when affronted by such diverse selections within just a few feet of each another. But it is the artworks that I’m still thinking about, several days later, which have truly captured my attention. And these are the ones worth mentioning.
Referencing the natural world, the works of Alfredo Gioventú, presented by Officine Saffi, are unlike any stoneware I’ve ever seen. Reflective of the natural elements they represent combined with the seductive addition of beautiful, perfect fragments, his pieces are at once both ancient and modern. Genesi di Pegaso is a piece of remembrance and at the same time, a document of something that has yet to occur (a wanting of something to commemorate). It invokes memories of actual sensations and offers a vessel for what may, in fact, may not have ever been real. This message is echoed in its presentation, suspended just above my view; forcing me to struggle to engage with the work, but at the same time existing just out of sight.
Crystal Bowl by glass artist Laura Kramer, introduced at SOFA CHICAGO by Heller Gallery, was one of the first surprises of the show. Unfamiliar with her work, it is captivating at initial glance by the beauty in its form and surface, but there is infinite substance here. A mirrored bowl with translucent crystals that arise from the center and overflow out of the crater brings together art and nature by mimicking and questioning the validity of made versus natural materials. Exploring the subliminal in such an intentional manner, Kramer creates elegant, mythological environments that cultivate and satisfy an anthropological curiosity – blurring the line of and questioning my assuredness in what is real and what is created.
Equally as subtle though exquisite in its simplicity is the work of Thomas Hopkins Gibson, presented by Craft Scotland. Beginning with green timber sourced from Dumfries House Estate near where the artist grew up, Gibson turns intoxicatingly beautiful, large, wooden bowls. What I find particularly unique are the repairs, areas hallmarked with Scottish silver suturing a crack across the center of the bowl or covering a mark where the wood has naturally split. There are two histories evident in each piece: that of Gibson and that of the tree and I can’t help but wonder what secrets and faults the artist is trying to repair or conceal from his own past as he so carefully mends the ones of the wood.
Illuminating the absence of a human presence yet using our collective and tactile history as a point of entry, the work of Patrick Francis McGuan invites us to remember the parts of our past we easily forget – sometimes intentional, sometimes not. Firmament, presented as part of the Comfort Me special exhibit by the fiber department at Cranbrook Academy of Art and curated by Mark Newport, invokes a feeling of archaeology – objects were once necessary but are no longer utilized, through no will of their own, but are deserving of our preservation. Successfully confronting the notions of impermanence and incarnation, of loss and desire, I am intimately drawn to the delicate wool left behind on the surface of these tools. A sense of nostalgia for a past I was too young to experience is further denied by a sense of loss for a past that may never return.
Rob and Jaap Thalen’s installation, conversely, is a celebration of the human presence. A revelation really – a contemporary table covered in animal hide set with hand-forged silver place settings that reflect a genuine passion for the material. In previous works, the father-son duo have presented exquisite silver objects with dual surfaces: one that is sleek, smooth, and reflective like a polished mirror and the opposite, an obvious forged and shaped finish with traces that deliberately show evidence of the artist’s hands. The place settings here, bridge the gap between maker and viewer, between object and tool, between surface and finish by allowing the user to leave their own traces on the work simply through their actual use. In this removal of preservation and exaggerated invitation to touch, the work eases itself into our environment in the most gorgeous, functional way.
Admittedly, I am not typically drawn to representational sculptural works, but several artists utilizing animal forms or references were an unexpected draw. Ironically, each manifested some of my most instinctive responses throughout the fair. Furl by Lindsay Pichaske, presented by Duane Reed Gallery, dances with our gut reaction to touch with her use of delicate yet decadent and arresting surface materials. The obvious reference to taxidermy cannot be avoided, but Pichaske elevates the work beyond such an amateur categorization by her use of inanimate materials as conspicuous skins for her meticulously crafted and intentionally exaggerated animal forms. The intersection of human vs. mammal successfully reflects the artist’s interest in creating a question of dualities: beauty vs. repugnance and the familiar vs. the strange. Surprisingly, I am left thinking about relationships and commemoration: what is worth holding on to and how my recollection of others is embellished to the point that I will ultimately remember them as I wish they had been.
Invoking an ancestral response is the jewelry of Steven Gordon Holman, presented by Charon Kransen Arts. Born in Utah, Holman’s work is a reflection on his rural upbringing, a collection of stories, myths, and iconographies both personal and cultural. The translation of material icon into contemporary jewelry touches on the ideas of adornment, necessity, history, and what the artist refers to as the contemporary tribe. For me, it raises larger questions about memory, lore, and ritual. Geode Torque, in particular, bares the actual physical weight of the concerns posed by the artist to be born by the wearer – a new rite of passage from maker to viewer.
Wapiti Elk by Charlotte Potter, presented by Wexler Gallery, is a unique combination of materials punctuated by brilliant, blown, clear glass antlers. Reflecting an artist who is searching and struggling with the boundaries of separation and questioning the philosophical need for space between her and the other – the presentation, as a trophy, is significant. The mounted work, interestingly, is a resolution of this struggle for the artist and an intervention for the viewer to begin the conversation.
Post Modern Buffalo by Adrian Stimsom, a member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta, Canada and presented by Creative Saskatchewan, consisted of three simple buffalo hides stretched over wood frames as you would a canvas for painting. Striking and visceral, the triptych is a definitive comment on our sensibilities of entitlement, ownership, and object.
Be sure to check out REVIEW | SOFA CHICAGO 2014, Part Two for more exciting selections from the fair!