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Craft swings into high gear at SOFA, New York.

Contemporary decorative arts from $68,000 fibre arts to $100,000 glass sculpture

It is called SOFA, i.e. Sculpture, Objects and Functional Arts. But to the New York City’s Chippendale and Old Masters crowd, last month’s fair may simply be crafts. In reality, the Park Avenue Armory show is packed with cutting-edge decorative arts from furniture and fibre to glass and ceramics by modern masters like Ruth Duckworth.

This New York site is a first for SOFA. Its home base is Chicago but in bringing the forty-six dealer show to the nation’s art and auction capital, SOFA director Mark Lyman elevated its stature with a three-day lecture series hosted by the American Craft Museum by such diverse luminaries as chief curator David McFadden, the ubiquitous Mario Buatta, the Prince of Chintz decorator and Palm Beach Antiques Fair co-chair. American Craft museum director, Holly Hotchner, said, “I am sure that SOFA will stimulate even stronger interest in the rapidly expanding field of craft and decorative arts.”

The expected New York galleries were present, such as Barry Friedman and Heller Gallery of SoHo, but there were also plenty from across the country as well as fourteen international dealers. At the same time, Mr Lyman has showcased a number of categories in depth.

There were works by the Rhodes Island School of Design glass department alumni. Christopher Ries with the Holstein Gallery of Stockbridge, Mass., exhibited some massive glass cut on a wiresaw. His $100,000 “Afterglow” was a show-stopper. Also of note was Heller Gallery’s work by Lino Tagliapietra. “Manhattan”, a grouping of eleven vases of in swirling stripes by this Murano glass artist, was purchased for the International Museum of Glass which is currently under construction in Tacoma, Wash. The presentation by Galerie NGV of Prague of Frantisek Vizner, whose sculptural glass is in the Met and the Louvre, was an additional surprise. Gallery representative, Jitka Pokoma, said, “We already have close to eighty clients in the States.”

The ceramics of noted Chicago artist Ruth Duckworth were also top-tier. Trained as a stone carver in the 50s, she pioneered the carving of clay. Today her pieces can be found in museums like the Met, Victoria and Albert and Boston Museum of Fine Arts. A wall piece for $65,000 that owes its composition both to Barbara Hepworth and Arp is stunning. By the show’s close, ten pieces were sold.

Barry Friedman showed glass, ceramics, metal and wood. The fused and thermo-formed brilliant glass by Toots Zynsky was a riot of colour. Sales of earthenware Bennet Bean pieces with gold leaf interiors were brisk. Mr Friedman sold eighteen of them and said, “I saw more action, more sales than any show in thirty years.”

Other stars of contemporary decorative arts include Wendell Castle is at Leo Kaplan Modern. His enormous four-poster bed is Disney-gone-baroque at $75,000.

Some of the nation’s best fibre art could be seen at Brown/Grotta Gallery of Wilton, Conn. A twisted and interlaced linen sculptural tapestry by Sheila Hicks was sumptuous even at $68,000. Their biggest selling category was bowls in a range of materials that says so much about the diversity of this field: apricot branches, price tags, paper, and fabric squares.

Kitsch unfortunately was not absent. These were pendants adorned with the Crucifix shrouded in a red T-shirt and Christina Bothwell’s burned dolls categorised as sculpture, no less. There were even $60 stencilled velvet scarves.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Craft swings into high gear'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 81 May 1998