Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair in April: Sweet Spot in New York to Visit

The 12th edition of the Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair (SOFA) in New York City is poised to present a great range of arts and design of value in today’s international markets. The show is scheduled for April 16-19, 2009 with an Opening Preview Gala on Wednesday, April 15 at the historic Park Avenue Armory.

In past years, SOFA NEW YORK has regularly drawn record numbers of collectors, curators, art advisors, architects, interior designers and new enthusiasts.


Accumulus Brooch, 2008 by Sergey Jivetin
(Ornamentum Gallery, Hudson, NY)

“Proven values in arts and design distinguish SOFA NEW YORK throughout as our dealers showcase artists and designers who have achieved prominent placement in world renowned museums with a great deal at accessible price points,” says Mark Lyman, Founder/Director of the SOFA Fairs and Vice President, dmg Art and Antiques. “That museum representation further confirms the validity of the extraordinary artistry showcased at the fair in the global marketplace,” he says.

Sixteen years ago, Lyman noticed that contemporary decorative artists and designers merited an international fair and since then he has developed three SOFA fairs, adding a new edition June 11 – 14, 2009 in Santa Fe, NM, Opening Night Preview, Wednesday, June 10 to benefit the New Mexico Museum of Art’s inaugural Design Collection. At SOFA CHICAGO last November, CBS MarketWatch cited the fair for sales exemplifying market stability.

Fine art auctions have been a tough sell this season, but some contemporary decorative pieces sold well at the recent SOFA Chicago Fair, Nov 2008.

Among the many artists coveted by collectors and curators is ceramicist Miyashita Zenji, renowned as a living legend in Japan and represented in museums far beyond Asia, showing at SOFA NY with New York dealer Joan B. Mirviss Ltd. She is presenting the first solo show of the artist outside Japan, as well as ceramics by other Japanese artists.

“With Miyashita’s works gracing the collections of over thirty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as well as a loyal following of private collectors, his prices have remained strong and gone up 40 percent over the last decade,” says Mirviss. Miyashita’s sculptural work perfectly marries abstract landscape imagery with innovative form via colored clay applications in subtle hues on stoneware and is priced from $3,000-$15,000.

“The fact that his sculptures are in the Metropolitan Museum’s Asian art collection as well as their 20th century decorative arts holdings demonstrates his wide appeal across multiple specialties,” says Mirviss, who has sold to more than 40 museums as well as a number of corporate collections such as Goldman Sachs and Coca Cola. She says lately new buyers from France, Holland and Germany have been scooping up examples by Japan’s latest ceramicists, indicating the new international reach of such artists.

Silver and gold sculpture, vessels and jewelry are also highly sought by a growing band of collectors. “Because of the inherent value of silver, we’re seeing a consistently strong demand for silver art objects and it’s not letting up,” says Clare Beck at Adrian Sassoon in London. “The sense of luxury coupled with intricate craftsmanship of hand forging attracts clients to precious metals,” she says. On their stand will be silversmith Junko Mori whose hand forged sculptural objects are inspired by actual plants and pine cones, and begin at $8,000. Plus, Mori is participating in the SOFA NY Salon Artists Conversations, which along with an acclaimed lecture series, is free to SOFA attendees. Interestingly, at Sassoon’s last SOFA NEW YORK show, Europeans like the Brits and Italians shopped his stand.

In addition, new dealer Alastair Crawford of Manhattan, who specializes in Georg Jensen silver, will be launching his own contemporary line of silver flatware with handles of jasper and lapis lazuli, along with silver and gold vessels as well as jewelry. “Many clients were asking for handmade silver examples and unique items and with this new dimension to my dealership, I can fulfill those requests,” says Crawford, who is completing commissions for silver scones for a Dallas client. “I’m seeing clients seeking the security of investing in tangible assets like silver and gold that historically weathers recessions,” he says. Other dealers seeing an uptick in gold artist jewelry include Aaron Faber Gallery and Charon Kransen Arts, both of New York.

Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair 2009

Then Philadelphia dealer Bob Aibel, who heads up Moderne Gallery, says “Studio furniture by the masters George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick and Sam Maloof remains in keen demand.” He believes the strength of that market is because choice work by those designers fits in a wide range of stylistic interiors, including contemporary, Modernist and Asian. At the same time, their design sensibilities are in sync with today’s emphasis on simplicity and integrity of materials. Due to his large holdings of such prized design, Aibel has been interviewed in Wallpaper magazine and the German AD singled him out as “the world’s leading Nakashima dealer.” Architects and interior designers on his client list include Michael Smith, whose clients include President Barak Obama, and Thad Hayes and Alan Wanzenberg. On his stand will be two rare Nakashima consoles dating from the seventies as well as an early coffee table.

Florida-based private dealer Donna Schneier cites iconic examples by pioneers of the studio ceramics and glass movements such as Betty Woodman, Harvey Littleton and Toshiko Takaezu as “really recession proof…While those artists are frequently exhibited in fine art museums, they can be acquired for a fraction of the cost of contemporary art and more importantly, their names will live on for centuries,” says Schneier. She is witnessing another market shift. “Especially in the past year, I’m seeing younger collectors, many totally new to field, taking on classic work as objects of beauty and a proven asset class all rolled into one,” says Schneier, who has regularly achieved sales to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among others.

Glass by leading artists is another “blue chip investment category” according to Doug Heller, who heads up Heller Gallery in Tribeca. He is featuring work by four artists: Lino Tagliapietra, who taught secret Venetian glass blowing techniques to Dale Chihuly as well as a host of other Americans; and Nicole Chesney, noted for her cast glass wall sculptures referencing color-field paintings, as well as Danes Steffen Dam and Tobias Møhl. Heller says of the latter, “Their sales in the past two months are both impressive and consistent.” An added bonus for collectors is a Tobias Møhl costs only $5,500 to $17,500.

“Today, more clients want something of lasting beauty by an artist who is making a considerable impact in the larger art world,” says Heller who just confirmed two corporate commissions for Lino, a museum acquisition for Steffen Dam, and a private commission for Tobias Møhl. “The Møhl is an intended gift from collector and Longhouse founder Jack Lenor Larsen and speaks of the artist’s dazzling blown and etched glass skills,” adds Heller, who has sold to the Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Art Museum, among many other internationally prominent museums.

Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair 2009

Like glass, wood artistry is now receiving enormous attention. At SOFA CHICAGO, the del Mano Gallery of Los Angeles achieved their most successful show in William Hunter’s entire career with sales to the Carnegie Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Mint Museum as well as to private collectors. “For SOFA NEW YORK, we aim to repeat this by bringing William Hunter to the fair, so new collectors can meet him and have a dialogue about his latest sculptural work in Latin American rosewood,” says Ray Leier, who founded del Mano over 30 years ago.

Other artists of note include Michael Peterson who will be honored with a three-year museum touring show shortly. “Fifteen years ago, a Peterson cost $500 to $1,500,” says Leier. “Now they are priced from $6,000 to $20,000,” he says. “Wood is organic in nature and collectors today rightly fixate on this artistic trend that is never going away,” says Leier. With some artists’ prices beginning as low as $500, Leier expects to introduce new collectors to an entirely different artistic endeavor.

SOFA NEW YORK 2009 Opening Night, Wednesday, April 15, 5:30 – 9 pm; Exposition hours are Thursday & Friday, April 16-17: 11 am – 8 pm; Saturday, April 18: 11 am – 7 pm; Sunday, April 19: Noon – 6pm.

(press release)

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