One of the big highlights of SOFA CHICAGO is seeing new work from masters in the field: finding the nuances in the styles to which we have become accustomed and looking for new directions in either their aesthetic, technique or concept.
Cumulus Cover by Tom Eckert, presented as part of Collectors of Wood Art’s special exhibit Beyond Boundaries: Wood Art for the 21st Century, curated by Emily Zilber and represented by Thomas R. Riley Galleries, is an evocative form suggestive of an object that does not exist. A master of manipulating wood, Eckert is achieves the impossible: an object is intentionally distorted to believably appear as something else and my tacit textural response is overturned when I discover the media. Juxtaposed with this aesthetic curiosity, Eckert has included a realistic photo image of a cloud that upon first glance resembles an atom bomb plume. This delicate dance of visual deception, of the actual versus reality, results in a work that is vividly engaging both conceptually and aesthetically.
Invernale (Wintry) by Toots Zynsky, shown by David Richard Gallery, demonstrates a master showing off – and doing it well. Still constructed in her distinctive heat-formed filet de verre (glass thread) style, the scale of the work is new for Zynsky, yet bares no sign of pretention or hesitation. An aesthetically and technically grounded work in her characteristic vessel form, the larger scale expands my ability to interact with the work; and more importantly, allows the form to really breathe – taking the work beyond object to a category I cannot define. The simplicity in the color palette focuses my eye solely to the form: beginning in the interior and moving over the tenuous lip to the exterior, from one angle to the other in a silky and sinewy fashion, always finding myself returning to the luscious billows so carefully pinched by the artist. There is a mystery evident in Zynsky’s work, and I always feel as if this isn’t the final word. I am, happily, always left wanting more.
Gilded River Vessel by Jennifer McCurdy, presented by William Zimmer Gallery, is undeniably sexy. A perfectly thrown and carved porcelain vessel ornately gilded with 23-carat gold leaf appears to effortlessly float, begging me to softly glide my fingers along the translucent surface. Intricately carved, McCurdy successfully crafts a pattern not only in the structure of the form but in light and subsequent shadows of the vessel’s soft curves. It is inviting and seductive, suggestive of the fragility of our emotions and our honest desire to experience them nonetheless.
Scrutiny by renowned ceramicist Patti Warashira, presented by Abmeyer + Wood, is provocative and humorous – a balance generally skewered when attempted. Five female, nude figures precariously sit on the black shelf, gazing flirtatiously and unashamedly back at me. Black bars cover portions of their anatomy, reminiscent of censor blocks on television, suggesting I’m seeing more than I should. Or am I? The oversized heads on the smaller, distortedly thin bodies suggests otherwise.
At a fair that is celebrated for artworks that cross the boundaries of fine art, decorative art and design, and in particular, of materials that are exploited in unexpected and dynamic ways, many artists at this year’s fair highlighted not only their skills of manipulation, but introduced materials to the roster in exciting ways.
Czech design team Daniel Pošta and Zdenek Vacĕk, presented by Charon Kransen Arts, exhibited new works from a series called Virus, a collection of spectacular aesthetic metamorphosis highlighting when a commonplace object becomes a luxurious jewel. The chunky ropes have a substantial weight (both visual and actual), are spun by an old traditional technique yet feel soft and smooth on the skin. Evoking the spreading of a virus or the growth of algae or lichen, the subtly sexy, pale white, grown crystals appear to overtake their host and seem to be in a state of perpetual growth. This captivating, seemingly fragile collection adeptly hovers on the boundary between jewelry and conceptual art.
Also presented by Charon Kransen Arts was the work of Lauren Tickle. A series titled INCREASING VALUE: New Object’s Value > Sum of Currency Converted are an experiment in the concepts of value and adornment. $32.00 Brooch, crafted from real currency, substitutes our notions of money from commodity to material (a thoughtful play) and explicitly implores an evaluation of the concepts of adornment and value in contemporary society.
Nuala O’Donovan, presented by Tansey Contemporary, gives a study of life (from past to future) through irregular regular patterns, elegant forms, and endless possibilities. Radiolaria, Grid Subtracted 3 is intricate, imperfect, and hypnotizing. The beauty is found in studying the decidedly handmade structures, and finding the beginnings and endings that result in a scarred, broken surface where the artist’s hand is ever present. In a web of endless patterns, I see the hope that is only evident in living organisms to respond, recover, and continue – in whichever direction creates our flawed yet perfect archetype.
Healing Polyopticon by Tim Tate, presented by Habatat Galleries, was one of the fair’s showstoppers for me. Having viewed smaller examples of Tate’s video/glass works, though savvy, they lacked the vitality that this piece exuded. The sheer scale and presentation of this work, in particular the removal of the cloche used in other smaller works, liberates the installation by removing the separation between me and the artist. It is opulent, massive, and seductive, and I am forced to take notice. The black glass flowers, with blood red undertones are intoxicating and ooze a sexiness that is confidently continued by the intimate videos they contain. Each portal reflects blinking eyes, each different, that serve as either a watchful eye or curious voyeur – an interesting question of just who is watching whom.
Norwegian craftsman and jewelry engineer, Sigurd Bronger, presented by Galleri Format Oslo, challenges the jewelry tradition with absurdities he calls carrying devices: finely polished objects that combine natural and mundane materials with precious metals in ways that are surprising, technically advanced, and humorous. Egg blurs the line between object, adornment, and the ridiculous; and subsequently questions the notion of art at large.
The anticipation for large art fairs for me is getting to stand in front of artwork and view the pieces in person that I’ve only been able to see in photographs, much is the same reason we visit museums and art galleries in general. There were a number of artists on my list that fall into this category and the work was exceptionally satisfying.
Analytic concept of breaking up the game into larger or smaller operations (detail shown here) by Ljubica Jocic Knezevic, presented by Officine Saffi is markedly exquisite. Referencing a gilded age with opulent gold frames, the works give the impression of monumentality, of significance. I’ve never seen porcelain utilized in this two-dimensional way. An exaggerated, rough, black surface juxtaposed with smooth and shiny white inlays that gradually undulate within the grid and within the frame – a frame within a frame that becomes a mirror of sorts, a reflection of the push and pull within us.
Artist Betsy Youngquist, presented by Next Step Studio + Gallery, invites us into a whimsical world created through the narrative lens of surrealistic anthropomorphism. Gorgeously precise and dripping with jewels, Ursa becomes both the icon and the guide for our journey back through the looking glass. Youngquist is a master of adornment, pushing her technique and subsequently the viewer beyond attraction into
Bolex by Joshua Hershman, presented by Ai Bo Gallery, also challenges our perceptions of self, memory and consciousness by encouraging alternate ways of looking at photography. Kiln cast glass cameras serve as the point of departure for an exploration of the curious nature of visual anomalies and how images both shape and distort our reality. I find the irregularities, the intentional imperfections, in Hershman’s work the real tell of what he’s thinking about. A comment not just on the ways in which the captured and subsequent image of our own lives is offered back to us, but on how we accept the very documentation of our own existence.
Vase Image with Flowers on Gold Ground by internationally renowned, Québec ceramicist Léopold L. Foulem, presented by Option Art, offers an unconventional and rigorous approach to ceramics. His spatial oddities, as he refers to them, offer a rich arsenal of humor, irony and provocation.