SOFA New York: jewels of the avant garde

If you’re in Manhattan this weekend, take a walk on jewelry’s wild side. Opening Friday at the Park Avenue Armory is SOFA New York, the northeast version of Sculptural Objects & Functional Design, the artsy craft fair that launched in Chicago in 1993. Many collectors and dealers consider this the ultimate venue for wearable art on this side of the Atlantic.

An attendee checks out the booth of Clare Beck of Adrian Sassoon, London (courtesy SOFA)

Several of the 58 galleries represented specialize in avant garde studio jewelry, including Aaron Faber, Charon Kransen Arts, Sienna, and Snyderman-Works galleries. SOFA shows are open to the public and attract the same well-heeled collectors you might find strolling the streets of Chelsea on a Sunday afternoon – except many wear their art, as well as hanging it on their walls.

Necklace (separates into ring and bracelet) of 22K gold, sterling, felt, acrylic, glass frit, enameled steel, black and white ebony, and powder-coated steel by Seth Papac Michael (Sienna Gallery)

SOFA founder Mark Lyman opted to extend the run this year – a sign of optimism, he claims. “The fear is gone.” Lyman says. “Collectors are giving themselves permission to buy again—at all price levels.”

This is not your average craft fair. Handmade goods at this show can go for $10,000-20,000 – I’ve seen some for $50,000 – which may explain why you don’t see the wheeling and dealing typical of most successful most trade shows. The less frenetic pace combined with SOFA’s emphasis on public education makes it easy to wander and look.

Every booth at the SOFA show is a microcosm of an art gallery, minus most of the flat stuff mounted on walls. Because exhibitors are galleries rather than individual artists, things are not tucked into their proper aisles: ceramics here, jewelry there. Everything is intermingled, which lends a sense of unpredictability to strolling the aisles. (It also forces jewelry fanatics to give equal time to the wild experimentation going on in every aspect of the craft world.)

“The group that comes to SOFA is very knowledgeable,” Lyman told me when the first SOFA show opened in New York 13 years ago. “They have an adventurous spirit and they’re open to new things. Because it’s a three-dimensional show and includes functional work like art furniture and jewelry, somehow it’s more accessible.”

ANIMA "eva" 2009 of silver, gold electroformed by Ruudt Peters, represented by Ornamentum, Hudson, NY

ANIMA "eva" of silver and gold, electroformed by Ruudt Peters (Ornamentum Gallery)

Many of the jewelry artists I discovered at that first show are still here, including Dutch designer Ruudt Peters whose work I discovered at the Jewelers’ Werk booth in 1998, while Peters himself stood by wearing a lab coat, every inch the mad scientist.

This year, you’ll find his precious-metal science experiments at the Ornamentum Gallery booth. On Friday afternoon, Peters will talk about his exploration of the feminine subconscious in men “by drawing with wax underwater, a freeform process that makes manifest the latent, androgynous unconscious.” Hmm.

Seriously, don’t miss the lecture series if you go. SOFA gets top-notch artists and collectors to talk about fascinating things. I’ve heard, at past SOFA shows, Helen Drutt talk about her avant garde jewelry collection and Albert Paley describe his Art Nouveau-filled, converted horse stables home. (I turned both those talks into magazine stories.)

This year, in addition to Peters, a curator analyzes why we wear jewelry and Italian goldsmith Stefano Marchetti talks about the evolution of his designs. Audiences at these lectures are always decked out in handmade textiles, crazy hats and over-the-top jewelry and accessories. Like I said, this crowd wears their art (with pride).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *