REVIEW | SOFA no. 4: Jewelry & Silversmithing

SOFA no. 4: Jewelry & Silversmithing

Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design

November 5 – 8, 2015 | Chicago, IL

Contemporary jewelry is one of my most favorite art disciplines. It combines everything I love about ornament and adornment with everything I adore about sculpture and object; and with a field deeper and wider beyond what I can fathom, there is always a new artist or material or silhouette to discover. Continuously evocative, constantly ground-breaking, and perpetually marvelous, the collections at this year’s fair were full of spectacular surprises – not an easy feat amid a field always on the cutting-edge. There was indeed something for everyone (evidenced by perpetually packed booths), but here are the few that confidently stood out from the rest.

Elizabeth Boyd Hartmann’s biological series Cellula Praecursoria (presented by Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h) is quiet, poignant, and personal. It is also perfection. Informed by the time spent caring for her husband through cancer treatment and subsequent stem-cell transplant, Hartmann molds pristine slip-cast porcelain spheres into cells and electroformed copper growths (irregular in form, a side effect of the process) become malignancies, albatrosses of disease – as seen in Necklace, Cellula Praecursoria: A1. Each form is meticulously crafted and without blemish, I would imagine a physical reaction of Hartmann’s desire to regain control lost through the experience of traumatic illness. Each cell rests upon another, unyielding and suffocating, visually dense and starkly matte white. The lacquered copper growth, although a menace, is highlighted by its reflective and gleaming surface. It may seem strange to feature the one part that is hostile, but it isn’t; it is the single part that in so many ways is loathsome, but at the same time so very precious. Hartmann poetically emphasizes the intimate understanding of a single cell, both healthy and otherwise; proving there is always life amid despair. And whatever the outcome, it can be beautiful.

Timekeepers: Here to There, by Aric Verrastro (presented by Charon Kransen Arts), imbues the nostalgic notion of place into a necklace of stitched, painted steel and driftwood tethered together by long silver rivets. Having been recently displaced from living in a city, Verrastro seeks to fill the void left by his loss of community and connection by commemorating his hometown of Buffalo, NY. Each link is architectural and modular, an obvious nod to the rust belt city that has played such a significant role in his development. He champions the materials of his upbringing, in a manner he refers to as “proudly clutching with humility to its rustic charm.” Painstakingly stitched together, each crisp blue sheet of steel represents another notch in the belt, another event worth remembering, another place worth saving and rejuvenating. Far more than a souvenir, it is a memorial and an homage – solid, vibrant, and expectant.

Also presented by Charon Kransen Arts is the staggering work of Fumiki Taguchi. My favorite from the collection is Brooch, an incomprehensibly luxurious new world coat of arms design to reflect the growing global nature of personal relationships carved in sterling silver 925. Focused on bringing out the radiance of the inherent qualities of the precious metal, Taguchi chisels the entire surface of the work until it glitters – a quality often achieved through the inclusion of gemstones, something Taguchi deliberately avoided. Layers of silver animals, familiar but unrecognizable, bookend an elaborate crown atop a domed, blank center – emphasizing the endless possibilities of life and love as well as the pointlessness of categorization in the current dialogue of place and roots. If we are in fact all the same, where it really matters, how important is how we identify our identities? And what happens when two merge? Taguchi offers a collective, flamboyant badge that crosses all boundaries.

Though not specifically of the body, Untitled necklace by Ela Bauer (presented by Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h) reflects an inspiration of the internal and external aspects of the human form and human nature. Made from silicone and plastic, Bauer presents an engaging comment on the antagonistic conflict of the inside with the outside through texture: one is cumbersome and dense while the other is slick and shiny. Open ballooning forms narrow around the neck, simultaneously drawing me in and expelling me out, a dramatic effect depicting a cyclical and theatrical event – a segment in the unending process of things. Through such a narrow gaze, Bauer creates a new, fascinating reality that is puzzling and disturbing, but decidedly human.

Seven stations of sweet sugar overwhelm delicate lines of silver along the length of Micra spangled #11 (Sugar Crystal Neckpiece), by Rosie Kimber (presented by Craft Scotland). Crystals with hot pink and plum centers fade outward to pale shades of blush and lavender as they blossom around and outward from the necklace they haphazardly occupy. Modular, linear, 2-dimensional shapes twist and turn in angst from the honeyed growths that manipulate its form. Playfully questioning subverted notions of preciousness and value, Kimber teases with her candy-like colors, luring me in with her cheeky wit and modern design; yet, due to the fragile nature of the material, the more the piece would be worn, less of it would remain. The notion that the jewelry deteriorates from my use, that I could destroy something so beautiful, so coveted; echoes the intensity and instability of the material itself. It is luminous and confident and emphatically feminine. I flat out love it.

Also working in non-traditional materials, Irene Palomar’s Ring: Black (presented by Maria Elena Kravetz) combines Shibuichi, silver, and recycled plastic to construct previously unseen forms. A slick black mass folds and collapses in on itself, a result of direct pressure and heat. There is something architecturally appealing in the black mass that teeters atop a singular silver band: it is bold and structured but retains the evidence of devastation and manipulation from Palomar’s hand. At once both personal and sterile, it is seductive but repellant; and it is this dichotomy that reflects conceptual notions of wants, needs, and desires. A remant case aside but reborn, it beckons to be touched. I am happy to oblige.

Tufts of purple and yellow dyed nylon monofilament threads swirl together in the center of the ever sophisticated Rainbow Bangle, by Caroline Broadhead (presented by Didier, Ltd.). Each tuft is pulled through holes in the wooden bracelet, lavishly then covered by burnished silver. The notion of the body, or rather its absence, that is prevalent in Broadhead’s later installations and fiber works, clearly began here – in her jewelry. Even then, her pieces offer an experience, an opportunity to engage the senses through manufactured interactions with objects of her making. What makes this piece particularly interesting is the movement that is captured when the object is at rest, immediately transitioning to something far more formal and abstract. Only an artist with a revered command of the technical could construct an object so aesthetically ripe. It is a master work of and for the body that needs no body to brandish its potency.

And finally, any review of this discipline would be incomplete without the work of Rob and Jaap Thalen, master silversmiths shaping monumental vessels and objects from pure silver. Though I am in wonderment of Mega Landscape Cone (detail shown at top) for its remarkable size and emphatic organic texture, Bowl with Bent Edges truly captures the mastery of their skill and the gentleness of their spirit. Raised and formed to the perfectly proportionate size (for all things), its thick, assertive rim crisply cascading into the polished and burnished cavity. Their dual fervor and obsession for the material are palpable, the thoughtful evidence of their hands translates into objects that transcend technique. There is a need I have to be surrounded by beauty, and the works of Thalen & Thalen satisfy that wanting over and over and over.

For more information about these artists and galleries, visit: And be sure to make plans to attend next year’s fair: November 3 – 6, 2016

*Author’s note: Rosie Kimber was a Louise & Maurice eye spy artist in November 2015. For more, visit:!Rosie-Kimber/cm57/igmj93s526

Images (from top to bottom): Rob & Jaap Thalen, Mega Landscape Cone (detail), fine silver 999, presented by Thalen & Thalen; Elizabeth Boyd Hartmann, Necklace, Cellula Praecursoria: A1, 2015, porcelain, sterling silver, silk, 18 x 5 x 2.5 inches, presented by Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h; Aric Verrastro, Necklace, Timekeepers: Here to There, 2015, steel, driftwood, sterling silver, acrylic paint, thread, 105 x 9 x 2 centimeters, presented by Charon Kransen Arts; Fumiki Taguchi, Brooch, Sterling silver 925, presented by Charon Kransen Arts; Ela Bauer, Necklace, Untitled, 2015, silicone, plastic, presented by Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h; Rosie Kimber, Micra spangled #11 (Sugar Crystal Neckpiece), Silver, Sugar, Textile, 700 x 400 x 70 centimeters, presented by Craft Scotland; Irene Palomar, Ring: Black, 2013, Shibuichi, silver, recycled plastic, 7 x 5 x 4 centimeters, presented by Maria Elena Kravetz; Caroline Broadhead, Rainbow Bangle, 1978, sterling silver nylon wood, 3.9 inches in diameter, stamped with London hallmarks for 1978, Ex. collection of Barbara Cartlidge, London, presented by Didier, Ltd.; Rob & Jaap Thalen, Bowl with Bent Edges, fine silver 999, presented by Thalen & Thalen

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