In its first dozen years, the annual Sculpture Objects and Functional Art exposition (SOFA for short) at Navy Pier was owned and operated solely by Expressions of Culture, Inc., a company founded and presided over by art impresario Mark Lyman. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s important that I note here that I was at one time a consultant and business partner with the company. Similar to its contemporary springtime counterpart, Art Chicago, Expressions of Culture is now owned by a company other than that of its founder. It was purchased in November 2005 by dmg world media, owned by the UK-based Daily Mail and General Trust plc (DMGT), which also puts on Palm Beach! America’s International Fine Art & Antique Fair and Palm Beach 3, a collection of “three distinct and complementary art fairs in one location: international galleries presenting contemporary art, classical and contemporary photography, and the best of decorative arts and contemporary design.” It took more than two years of planning and preparation to conclude the deal, and this year, the thirteenth, is the first installment of the Chicago show under its new ownership. At first glance, the acquisition certainly hasn’t slowed the energetic vision of the fair. If anything, it’s enhanced it.
SOFA takes place this weekend in the cavernous Festival Hall at Navy Pier, as it has for several years, with more than a hundred galleries participating from across the globe, comprising a show that spans the distinction between decorative, fine and contemporary art. Still, this year, as in past years, the emphasis will likely remain squarely on the former two categories, with contemporary art more an added focus than a core concern. Special side exhibitions will play a pivotal role in helping to define the exposition’s increasingly internationalist showcase. As with the past three years, for instance, SOFA will host an exhibition of work by Israeli artists curated by the Association for Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA), and adds this year an exhibition of Irish art, “Forty Shades of Green, A Convergence of Irish Art and Craft,” curated by artist Brian Kennedy. Domestic influences are also accounted for. The New York Museum of Arts and Design, for example, will also host “Jubilee! Fifty Years on 53rd Street,” rolling out works from its permanent collection. And the Friends of Fiber Art International will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary with “Material Difference Too,” a sister exhibit to the fiber arts exhibition open now at the Chicago Cultural Center.
A longtime strength of SOFA has been its educational program, a tradition that also continues this year on Friday and Saturday with a program of thirty-one lectures and discussions. These include talks on glass, ceramics, art jewelry, fiber art, wood and material art. Former Director of the 20th Century Decorative Arts at Christie’s Dan Klein will present “Pala/Palova—Two Individuals, One Team,” an analysis of the work of renowned Slovakian glass artists Stephan Pala and Zora Palova. There’s also a convergence of discussion topics surrounding Asian art, including “Contemporary Chinese Sculpture in Glass,” a panel moderated by former Corning Museum of Glass curator Suzanne Frantz, “Tradition and Innovation: Korean Contemporary Ceramics,” with Dr. Judith Schwartz, director of Craft Media at New York University and “Fired With Passion: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics” with collector Samuel Lurie. A full list of all scheduled lectures and times is available through the SOFA website at sofaexpo.com.
All these adjunct events aside, however, the main course remains the galleries participating, this year hailing from thirteen countries. The vast majority, of course, are from the United States, with notables including Ferrin Gallery from Massachusetts and New York’s Leo Kaplan Modern. There’s also a long and impressive list of international participants such as DFArts International from Osaka, Persterer Art Gallery from Zurich and Galerie Vee from Hong Kong. There’s a wealth of art to explore and, while you’re at it, enjoy a little downtime watching the Corning Museum of Glass’ “Hot Glass Roadshow” artists demonstrating technique. It all adds up to a must-see exposition, and the smart set will get tickets to the public preview taking place this Thursday night from 7pm-10pm. Tickets for that event are $50. General admission passes are $15 and those who think they’ll need more than a day can invest in a three-day pass for $25. Student, senior and group tickets are also available at discount rates.
The Thirteenth Annual International Exposition of Sculpture Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) shows at Navy Pier, (773)506-8860, through November 12, 2006.