Can you name the city’s longest continuously running, gallery-curated art fair? The correct answer is SOFA [Sculpture Objects Functional Art + Design] Chicago, a weekend-long festival celebrating three-dimensional art and design. An average of 35,000 art enthusiasts flock to Navy Pier each fall to feast their eyes on one-of-a-kind work from around the globe. To give you an early taste of what to expect at next month’s 21st annual event, we chatted with fair director Donna Davies about the curation process and sculptures that will stop you in your tracks.
Should visitors expect anything new or different from last year’s fair?
This year’s fair has an even larger number of international galleries exhibiting, which is evidence of SOFA Chicago’s growing global significance. It also speaks to Chicago’s importance as a global hub for art and design. I’m thrilled that fair visitors will not only see the very best from US galleries, but they’ll get to see important works from around the world—all under one roof at Navy Pier.
What do you look for when you’re considering galleries to invite to participate?
SOFA Chicago is dedicated to materials, so the most important criteria is that the gallery’s program has a focus on the applied arts and design—works in a variety of mediums, including ceramics, textiles, glass, wood, design, studio jewelry, and metal to name just a few. The quality of the work to be exhibited is of key importance. I also ensure we have galleries representing the very best artists in these genres, but also that galleries are bringing fresh, emerging artists.
Your Connect program involves work by students at top design universities. What was the impetus for starting this program, and why do you think it’s important?
We implemented Connect at SOFA Chicago 2013 to celebrate our 20th anniversary of the fair. It was very important to me that we look less in the past to see where we’ve been, but look more ahead to the next 20 years and see where we’re going. Presenting what these top art and design universities are doing is the key to our future. We’re celebrating the artists and designers of tomorrow, and seeing this creativity is exciting and engaging for our visitors, as well as our exhibiting galleries and artists.
In your opinion, what pieces/installations are not to be missed this year?
Wexler Gallery [Philadelphia] is presenting exciting, new work by Andy Paiko and Vivian Beer, two young artists working in glass [Paiko and furniture/design [Beer]. How they approach material and form is refreshing. Heller Gallery [New York] is presenting a dynamic group of artists including Norwood Viviano, whose cast-glass forms of aerial views of the city of Chicago address the evolution of industry. His pieces are significant in their historical impact, and they’re visually powerful, abstract, and conceptual. TAI Modern [Santa Fe] is exhibiting exquisite contemporary Japanese bamboo artists, whose pieces highlight this amazing material and its duplicity of fragility and strength. And the new work by our international galleries should not to be missed, including [the] Galleri Format [Oslo, Norway] exhibit of the best of Norwegian ceramics, glass, and textiles, as well as lorch+seidel contemporary [Berlin, German], who will be exhibiting new German artists working in glass.
Do you have any additional advice for fair visitors?
Take your time to see it all! The fair opens on Thursday evening with our opening night preview and then continues all weekend, so come back several times because there is just so much to see. Be sure to attend the lecture series to hear from the artists, and see the special exhibits and artist demonstrations—all of which are free with your admission ticket.
GO: SOFA Chicago runs Thursday, November 6 through Sunday, November 9 at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall.
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