Remember craft? Vessels created from Popsicle sticks, all manner of macram and the like.
Well, think again. There's a new era of craft and the seventh International Exposition of Sculpture Objects & Functional Art best illustrates why vendors of specialty art are literally on the speed-dial of a host of collectors seeking contemporary glass, ceramics, wood and more.
Even Holly Hotchner, who heads up Manhattan's Museum of Arts and Design, calls this fair "the gold standard." The ten new dealers from France, Denmark, Italy and Britain swell the participant roster to 50 and give this show a decidedly keener international cast.
What's different? Both the quality and the prices have ratcheted up a level or two. Plus, examples overall are bigger, bolder and sometimes just plain brash.
Simply take in Manhattan's Heller Gallery's homage to the Venetian glass artist Lino Taglipietra. Not so long ago, this master turned out routine-sized vessels. Fast forward to this year and his creations are almost inosaur-sized. They're a towering three feet tall and even dubbed "Dinosaur," a riff on the massive Tyrannosaurus Rex and his elongated neck. The patterns in glass with rich, intricate striations of lattochino are handsome in a textile kind of way.
Prices for craft can commonly command six figures. Example: Lino's Masai or rather his contemporary interpretation of the Serengeti tribe's shields in glass as a wall sculpture. It's $120,000 and quite dazzling.
"Clients are more open to large pieces and high prices just as long as the example is the best of its kind," says Doug Heller, whose gallery is in New York's Meatpacking District. His steady sales confirm this collecting pattern.
If anything, the newest batch of craft is more emphatically figurative. So, there are considerably more examples of women's clothing by Karen Lamonte -- an evening dress, for example, or a child's outfit -- all cast in glass. All together Lamonte's fashion figures have a rather pedestrian appearance but that seems to be what collectors crave these days.
Dan Daily with Leo Kaplan Modern is another figurative artist who is on a high. Only he turns his artistic attention to lighting fixtures. His sconces are based on arch female figures and not for the feminist crowd. Even so they strike a humorous note. A double sconce costs $78,000, an almost Tiffany-lamp-like price.
Paul Stankard, who turns out the millenium's interpretation of Baccarat paperweights, is represented by Chicago's Marx-Saunders Gallery. Stankard creates tiny flowers in glass and then encases them severe glass blocks. While some appear downright prosaic, his creations have garnered museum show status. The Museum of Arts and Design is now honoring Stankard with a solo retrospective. Prices can be under $10,000.
The craggy furniture of the late American Japanese master George Nakashima can be found with Bob Aibel's Moderne Gallery. Lately Nakashima has been riding a real crest of popularity with collectors like fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, screen idols Brad Pitt and Julianne Moore claiming his designs for their homes. Examples on view highlight the artist's organic emphasis.
Recycling is another major craft trend and nobody does it better than the edgy Dutch design collective Droog. Consider their Rag chair by Droog's Tejo Remy at Manhattan dealer Barry Friedman. It's a stack of old clothes, virtual rags in velvet, denim and polyester-all bound up with baling metal. The price for the 1991 creation? $5,500 or considerably less than Chippendale or Hepplewhite.
Friedman also boasts some of the best glass in the entire fair. Take in the sculptural creations of the late Czech artist Libensky and our American home grown William Morris.
Another trend spotted is artists dipping into nature for materials and turning out fashion, no less. The Philadelphia-based Snyderman-Works Gallery features a neckline basket akin to a torso shape with hundreds of empty pistachio shells held by thin wire by Lindsay Rais. Nearby are clunky shoes made of cypress fruit by Israeli artist Lilly Poran.
Manhattan dealer Joan Mirviss is touting some of the best ceramics on the floor. A longtime participant in the Haughton's International Asian Art Fair, Mirviss is taking on SOFA only for the second time. Her specialty, Japanese ceramics, has literally climbed up to major league status.
"Three new museums in Australia, Arizona and Japan opened this year and all are dedicated to contemporary clay," says Mirviss. Plus, today 35 U.S. museums including the august Metropolitan Museum of Art, are building major collections.
That level of museum acquisitions reflects just how hot this area is for collectors. Some are certain to zero in on Kitaoji Kosanjin (1883-1959) and his 1950 stoneware dish with iron oxide red glazes for $28,000.
Aside from artful ceramics, there is a strong kitsch element to the fair offerings. Front and center at Leo Kaplan Modern is an over five feet high mixed media doll, Hippolito, by Kéké Cribbs. Her coat is literally peppered with buttons and she spots a red glass turban. The cost is a surprising $26,000.
Even so, dealers like Galerie Tactus from Copenhagen, Denmark make up for that kind of brazen culture. Their Danish silver, some of it hand hammered like vessels lined in gold, are breathtaking. That kind of wide reach from delicate new interpretations of silver hollow ware to oh so large rag doll make this fair a spirited adventure.
Further proving the power of craft in terms of mighty dollars and fair goers is the announcement by the Palm Beach-based International Fine Art Exposition (IFAE) fair group partnership with SOFA. Revealed the day before SOFA opened, this new partnership means that SOFA will organize the craft sector of the Palm Beach January contemporary fair.
BROOK S. MASON writes on the fine and decorative arts.