interview with sofa chicago director donna davies. sofa 2013.
[DesignApplause] Donna, tell us a bit about your background. What kind of events do you attend?
[Donna Davies] I’ve been the director of SOFA Chicago since 2011. I was an art dealer for 15-years. My first job was Assistant Director of Contemporary Art at Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe. I moved on to Chicago and was the director of Marx-Saunders Gallery at River North, which is now Ken Saunders Gallery. And during that time I was an exhibitor at SOFA Chicago for 8 or 9 years.
So my background with SOFA Chicago goes back a number of years and is multi-faceted because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I was on the management side and the exhibitor side. And I think, or I hope, that that brings a perspective that allows me to see the needs of all of our audiences. We have dealers and galleries who are exhibiting with us and I understand their goals and their needs. And I also have worked with those collectors and those visitors who attend the fair, so I’m very attuned to what they want and am able to facilitate that, being on the management side.
The third part of your question, what other events do I attend, and obviously I love attending art fairs. I attend as many as I possibly can. I love Miami Basel in December and all of the satellite fairs. And now New York going to Freize, and try to see as many fairs internationally as I can.
[DA] You’re a good fit and you enjoy this role to date.
[DD] It’s a lot of fun for me, and I think one of the key things about SOFA is that we’ve built a community, and really it’s a number of communities that are all interlinked. The common denominator is the art world, and the communities are the respective materials used in the art, the curators, the designers, the critics, the art groups’ board members. I’m happy to be a part of the evolution of these relationships for almost 10 years.
[DA] What kind of a fair is SOFA?
[DD] This year is SOFA’s 20th year. And we’re very fortunate to be the longest continuously running art fair in the city, and now to be one of the longest running art fairs in the country. We’re very unique in that we’re focused on materiality. So we have a focus on glass, textiles, wood- materials that are rooted in the decorative arts, and the arts and crafts movement that has evolved over the years. It’s the reason why SOFA was created 20 years ago, to create a marketplace for these forms and mediums that, at the time, were not incorporated into museum collections, or readily visible as two-dimensional work. It’s not a fair where you find paintings. This is a fair where you’re going to find unique materials, unique one-of-a-kind objects and meet the artists who have created these pieces.
[DA] Tell us about the last 5 years.
[DD] We’ve seen growth in the prices and demands for materials, especially in glass. The studio glass movement began 50 years ago, it started out with glass blowing, and the material really evolved. SOFA is an ideal venue to trace the evolution. Today there are many more artists, as well as techniques. Now glass is incorporated with other materials. For example, this year you’re seeing Colby Parsons, a young artist, who’s represented by Lacoste Gallery, using ceramics combined with video. The speed of change seems exponential.
[DA] How many galleries are exhibiting this year compared with last year?
[DD] The last year and this we have nearly 70 galleries.
connect | university of iowa installation
[DA] How does art and design interface at SOFA?
[DD] Art is the hook to hang onto here though some artists feel their creations are the result of design. One of our goals to celebrate our 20th year was to look ahead and see what’s coming in the next 20 years. To that end, we’re introducing design in the strict sense this year through our ‘Connect’ concept. We’ve invited five art & design university programs to each design an environment: a space with seating and lighting elements, a space for visitors to relax, but also learn what these design schools are creating. In Connect you’ll absolutely see an amalgamation of architecture, design, art and landscape design.
The fair has always been- one of our major missions has always been education. We educate our visitors, our clients, to have a better awareness of what they’re seeing and hopefully make an emotional investment. People are learning more about what they’re seeing, are a bit more intrigued to the point where something may really speak to them.
What’s interesting is the dealers, galleries and artists, all dealing with very unique pieces, are working hand-in-hand with architects and designers all the time on specific commissions, collaborating to create unique pieces for corporate and private spaces.
[DA] You mention earlier SOFA is niched in collectable sculpture and functional art. You also mention Design Miami which is niched in furniture and lighting though there’s a sprinkling of jewelry. The Connect concept is introducing furniture, lighting and landscape design. I see Barry Friedman at SOFA this year. I met Barry at Miami several years ago where I met Wendell Castle. Do you envision the design galleries presenting more furniture and lighting in SOFA’s future?
[DD] You know, all of the fairs have their niche with a sprinkling of integrating this or that. We are also always working to bring related objects. Many of the fairs have evolved from SOFA. I mean, Wendell Castle, George Nakashima, Joseph Walsh- those artists were selling here 20 years ago, 10 years ago. Wendell Castle is still showing at SOFA.
“untitled” | wendell castle | barry friedman ltd | 2013 [link]
We have Sam Maloof, icons of the design genre, which has evolved from the arts and crafts movement, which is what SOFA evolved from as well. So, it’s where we’re going. It’s something that I’m working on making a particular theme of the fair in the future. This year we have a wonderful offering of artists and galleries. And Barry again is showing Wendell Castle. Lewis Wexler is bringing Vivian Beer, Timothy Schrieber. And Sarah Myerscough is a new gallery, and her second year at SOFA, is bringing really fantastic UK, design pieces bring Gareth Neal and Michael Peterson, and Bill Zimmer is bringing Sam Maloof.
[DA] OK, we’ll just see where it keeps going, I thought SOFA last year was very, very good. Speaking of last year I came across an installation by the College of Fellows and I talked to an editor for American Craft Magazine and we are talking about limited editions versus commercial, craft versus design and art. The magazine was about to release an article on this topic as there’s a big debate the most successful path. Are you involved with any of those conversations?
[DD] It’s a fascinating conversation. You’re talking about the American Craft Council and the special exhibit that they presented last year. You’re probably going to hear that conversation on the floor this year too. Wendell Castle, for example, is making limited edition pieces, he’s moved away from some of those unique pieces that he made 20 years ago. And you see that more and more with the design artists making limited editions. Not so much with the glass and ceramics as that’s still a one-of-a-kind artform.
freedom-1 | latchezar boyadjeiv | habitat galleries | 2013 [link]
[DA] Any predictions on how this will evolve?
[DD] Well, it’s something that will be a part of the fair moving ahead as more and more of these artists incorporate other materials in their work. It may continue to develop as more and more design work is brought into the fair. It’s something that will be very relevant.
[DA] How does SOFA partner with the city of Chicago?
[DD] We’re always looking to maximize our partnerships and our sponsorships with the city. It’s a continuous conversation. Sponsorship money- those are long discussions that are worked out many, many months in advance of the fair. Especially with Connect. This is our first year for Connect, and it was very important to have local participation. We’re very pleased that we have Illinois Institute of Technology. And for next year we would like to have more local involvement. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College. Harrington College reached out to us this year, so, certainly working with the local schools, working with the city is something that’s very important to us.
[DA] It seems online exposure and sales is growing. Some of the sites have partnered with the galleries. How does this business model impact SOFA?
[DD] We’re definitely aware and talking about that business model. It’s already happening. Not necessarily through a partnership just yet. We still produce a physical catalogue at the fair. But we moved quickly, for a number of years, to an online catalogue. You can actually go through the online catalogue before you get to the fair, and get a sense of who’s bringing what, seeing the images that are available. We can put more images online than we can put in the physical catalogue, and the feedback we’ve gotten from the dealers is important. So in a way we’ve already been doing it ourselves without a partnership. With the contact information, the offerings, many pieces are sold before folks even get to the fair, which is great.
[DA] Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you want to bring up?
[DD] There is something else new to the fair this year which might be of interest: We’re introducing SOFA Selects. We’ve reached out to a number of art and design professionals, museum curators, designers, interior designers, architects and critics, to make their picks, the pieces they’re excited to see. So, when you get to the fair, for example, you’ll see that David McFadden from the Museum of Art and Design, chose a particular piece and why. It was a way to further engage the audience. When you’re here you’ll see these curators and these people walking around the show floor, but if you aren’t able to have a personal conversation with somebody, here’ a way in a sense, to get inside that person’s head. Why did this critic, curator, designer or architect choose that piece?
Maybe you’ll see that we’ve invited David Blaine, who’s a New York architect. He’s made his SOFA selection, and maybe you’re a new collector and you’re thinking about building a house and you like a particular piece, and you see that David Blaine has chosen this particular piece and you maybe feel like you share an aesthetic. Or maybe you see Suzanne Lovell has chosen a particular piece and you like the way her eye and sentimentality and maybe you’ll work with Suzanne.
We’re also really excited to have Jack Lenor Larsen coming to the fair this year. Jack is at SOFA for the first time, making his choices for the LongHouse Special Recognition Awards for Best in Show, which will be for best artwork and best booth design.
[DA] I really like the Select concept. There are so many offerings it can be overwhelming and the Select concept can serve as an organizer. Question, these selected pieces, are they earmarked at a respective booth or in an installation?
[DD] You will see them in the Select booth. You will also see signage calling out those pieces in their respective booths.
You know, we’re excited that it’s the 20th year and we’re hoping it’s one of our better fairs. We always try to improve it each time. Out of the 70 galleries this year there are 18 galleries from around the world, much higher than in previous years. So I think it really speaks to the importance of Chicago as an important marketplace.
event> sofa chicago 2013
venue> navy pier | chicago
preview> 31 october 2013 | 7>9p | tickets $50 [link] public viewing> 1>3 november 2013
[ exhibitors ]
Aaron Faber Gallery
Abmeyer + Wood Fine Art
Ann Nathan Gallery
Armaggan Art & Design Gallery
Barry Friedman Ltd
Berengo Studio 1989
Blue Rain Gallery
Charon Kransen Arts
Clark Priftis Art
CREA Gallery – Contemporary Fine Craft
Cultural Connections CC Gallery
David Richard Gallery
Donna Schneier Fine Art
Duane Reed Gallery
Galerie Elca London
German Pavilion – German Arts & Crafts
Glenn Aber Contemporary Art/AIBO Fine Asian Art
Jane Sauer Gallery
Jason Jacques Inc.
Jean Albano Gallery
Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections
John Natsoulas Gallery
Judy A Saslow Gallery
Korea Craft Design Foundation
Maria Elena Kravetz Gallery
Mattson’s Fine Art
Maurine Littleton Gallery
Mayer Fine Art
Mindy Solomon Gallery
Next Step Studio & Gallery
Officine Saffi Ceramic Arts Gallery
Oliver & Espig
Option Art/Galerie Elca London
Palette Contemporary Art and Craft
Ruth Lawrence Fine Art
Sarah Myerscough Gallery
Schantz Galleries Contemporary Glass
Scott Jacobson Gallery
Shabahang Persian Carpets
ten472 Contemporary Art
Thalen & Thalen Sprl
The K. Allen Gallery
The Pardee Collection
Thomas R. Riley Galleries
William Zimmer Gallery
1> komorebi | hare shimomoto | david richard gallery | 2013 [link] 2> burial urn | william morris | wexler gallery | 1991 [link] 3> pyramids of makkum | studio job/makkum | joanna bird contemporary ceramics | 2011 [link] 4> dodai | peter marigold | sarah myerscough fine art | 2012 [link] 5> camber | beth kendall | sherrie gallerie [link] 6> razzle dazzle boat | richard marquis | bullseye gallery | 2012 [link] 7> low rider | vivian beer | wexler gallery | 2013 [link] 8> forms that reveal the absurd | harumi nakashima | gallery fw | 2013 [link] 9> benchland | michael peterson | sarah myerscough gallery | [link]