This year, SOFA | Chicago (October 31-November 3, 2013) announced that there would be a strong ceramic component, usually the weak link in this event. But a review of the participating dealers in ceramics and the artists they represent is underwhelming; SOFA remains a glass fest. Most of the ceramics stalwarts are absent from the exhibitor list and those present generally showcase few artists that are the top in their field, either nationally or internationally. Definitely the bias is for conservative craft rather than edgy art.
That said, SOFA has never been a cutting edge event and is the right venue for studio pottery. In this regard, there is some exceptional vessel-based work. London-based dealer Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections is showing the work of up-and-comer Halima Cassell, who carves into thick walled vessels and sculptural forms. Born in 1975 in Pakistan, brought up in Manchester, and now living in Blackburn, Lancashire, Cassell’s varied, multi-cultural background is tangibly present in her work.
Arnold Annen, a Swiss ceramist born in 1952 who works in Basel, is best known for his work in porcelain from Limoges and is shown by Officine Saffi, Milan. Over the years, he has been perfecting his technique for making distinctive, and now large, paper-thin porcelain bowls. They are virtuosic, but harken back to the previous century when that particular quality mattered; they only push the envelope on a technical level. But to give them their due, they do stop one in one’s tracks.
The most contemporary artist in the fair is Steven Young Lee (better known to some as the director of the Archie Bray Foundation in Helene, Montana). He is shown by Duane Reade, St Louis and has burst onto the scene quite recently with superb work that retains a delicate balance between lyricism and collapse. Barry Friedman, New York shows strong sculptural work by Akio Takamori and Tip Toland, but nothing from the gallery’s younger artists.
Jason Jacques (New York) has two artists who are worth noting, Dane, Morten Lobner Espersen and Brit, Gareth Mason, as is Minkyu Lee in the booth of Mindy Solomon (now in Miami). There is also a scattering of largely unexciting resale material including an unfortunate stack by Peter Voulkos.
The real disappointment is Jun Kaneko’s Dangos from his hyper-productive dumpling factory. The work has become formulaic, obvious, and garish. Sometimes not even a bright red glaze can rescue a form from anonymity.
Design was largely absent, despite its prominent place in the SOFA logo. Byrd did represent the ceramic collaboration between Studio Job, one of Europe’s top designers, and Tichelaar Makkum, the Dutch ceramics factory. Even though it is old news, it brought Job’s faux-pomposity to a fair otherwise lacking in star power. Seeing as SOFA does not have the exhibitors to define the cutting edge in ceramics, SOFA’s new organizers (after 20 years Mark Lyman and Anne Meszko, his wife, are moving on) might be wise to sponsor an exhibition next year of some of ceramic’s movers and shakers to bump up the excitement level and perhaps encourage exhibitors to stop playing it so safe. CFile would be happy to assist.
Garth Clark is the Curator and Chief Editor of CFile.
Halima Cassell, Pa-Kua II, Carved ceramic, 11” high x 12” Diameter. Photo: Sylvain Deleu
Arnold Annen, Floating natural white porcelain, Unglazed, 6.7 x 10.8 in