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    Decorative Arts Diary
by Brook S. Mason
 
     
 
At SOFA, the booth of Leo Kaplan Modern, with works (from left) by Jose Chardiet, Wendell Castle, Albert Paley and Ed Zucca.
 
Dan Dailey
Woman with Violin Prisms and Man with Jeweled Rope
$70,000
at Leo Kaplan Modern
 
Barry Friedman's booth
 
Ed Weinberger
Hollow-Box-Split-Arch Bridge Desk
$37,500
at Barry Friedman
 
Lino Tagliapietra
Endeavors (detail)
$35,000-$40,000 each
at Heller Gallery
 
Czech glass at Galerie No Janskem Visku from Prague
 
Frantisek Vizner bowl
$34,000
at Galerie No Janskem Visku
 
Pitcher by Betty Woodman
$18,000
at Franklin Parrasch
 
Bamboo baskets
at Tai Gallery
 
Wharton Esherick hammer chairs
on the American Craft Museum wish list
$10,000 each
from Moderne Gallery
 
Victor Cicansky
Afternoon Peaches and Pears
$7,500
at Susan Whitney Gallery
 
The International Exposition of Sculpture Objects & Functional Art, June 1-4, 2000, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue and 67th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021.

Crafts, that condescending "c" word, hardly applies to the offerings at the International Exposition of Sculpture Objects & Functional Art, best known as SOFA. Now on view at the Seventh Regiment Armory, 67th and Park Avenue, this year's version is packed with the latest art forms in glass, wood, ceramics, metal and basketry that truly negate the gulf between craft and the finer arts. In some cases, the art examples make the sculpture offerings in the Chelsea galleries look positively serene.

Overall, a tour of the Armory floor reveals works by major artists that even the most tradition-bound decorative arts enthusiast should consider.

First stop is Leo Kaplan Modern, where dealer Scott Jacobson commissioned special "millennium" pieces from his celebrated stable of artists. "I wanted the artists to celebrate this new age by creating distinctive works," says Jacobson. Humor is wildly apparent in furniture and Richard Ford's purple and yellow desk with side cabinets looks like it's on a binge with the entire piece swaying. A pair of brass and bronze sconces by Dan Dailey, one titled Woman with Violin Prisms and the other called Man with Jeweled Rope, appear to be spouting chef toques and indicate how powerfully coveted such lighting fixtures can be. The two are priced at $70,000.

Who's the client for such pricey commodities? "Top tier contemporary art collectors," says Jacobson. In fact, 60 percent of his clients collect Lichtenstein, Wesselman and Dubuffet, among other mainstream artists.

Speaking of furniture, don't skip Ed Weinberger's split arch desk at Barry Friedman. Weinberger, a former venture capitalist, undaunted by crippling Parkinson's disease, turned to designing furniture. His desk constructed of perpendicularly arranged flat rectangular planes is surprising for its complexity and tension. In terms of design, Weinberger's creativity is unmatched.

Glass is front and center this year with at least 50 different artisans represented and New York's Heller Gallery is touting some of the best. Lino Tagliapietra, an artist from Murano, Italy, has a series of barques, an ancient boat form, only in blown glass with each individual piece distinguished by both a different color and textured surface. Hung in double rows, these willowy creations are evidence of how glass artists are fast surpassing sculptors for taking a familiar form and elevating it to a startling new level of sophistication. One index of Tagliopietra's prowess in the art world is the fact that his work can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum as well as museums in Copenhagen, Seattle and Tokyo.

Also at Heller, no one should miss the nine-foot-high, 1,200-pound sarcophagus-shaped form by the Czech husband and wife team of Stansilav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova. The price? A cool $200,000.

Right now, the Czech Republic reigns as a major glass artistry capital, with some 300 artists practicing the medium, so at SOFA head for Prague's Galerie No Janksem Vrsku. On view are Frantisek Vizner's hammered and carved glass bowls. His palette is a moody Rothkoesque with deep blues and grays -- and his prices reflect his eminence. A single bowl is $34,000. On opening night, one of his bowls went for a cool $22,000, comparatively more than a good piece of Sevres.

For ceramics, New York dealer Franklin Parrasch is featuring some of the best. He's got a raucous Betty Woodman pitcher with bold splashes of color. It's no secret that this ceramist (who is represented by Max Protetch in Chelsea) is avidly collected by those who also snap up Picassos. An interesting counterpoint is the spare, introverted biomorphic sculptures of Ken Price.

For metal work, turn back to Barry Friedman. He is showcasing the hammered and gilded copper by the Paris dinaundiere Herve Wahlen. His semi-circular En Chemin, which is covered by patinated gold leafing, opens and closes and is appealing in a tactile way.

The Santa Fe Tai Gallery puts basket-making classes at the local Y to shame. There is a Homma Kazuaki basket made of smoked bamboo, which was pulled from the roof rafters of 19th century Japanese farmhouses. Its intricacy is dazzling. The light pine boxes for packing the baskets are a study in the best of minimalism.

SOFA also says what high-end collectors in this field are drawn to besides contemporary creations. Mid-century Modernism furniture from the likes of George Nakashima (1905-1990) and Wharton Esherick (1887-1970) are high on the list and Philadelphia dealer Robert Aibel of Moderne Gallery is touting some of the best. The rage for these artisans is such that last year Aibel sold a staggering 200 Nakashima furnishings. Among the clients for the Japanese-American artist's craggy furniture is none other than Brad Pitt.

The most distinctive work by Esherick is on view at the American Craft Museum's exhibition in the center of the Armory. There are loan pieces as well as several works from dealers, which are on the museum's wish list -- hopes are that a collector will purchase and then donate them. There is Aibel's pair of Esherick chairs constructed from hammer handles with a rawhide seat. They are a real rarity and only $10,000 apiece.

Another sideline in this burgeoning field is ethnography and Douglas Dawson is a master at presenting this area of the decorative arts. This Chicago dealer has a Guinean cotton shirt trimmed with leather fringe, fur, metal and even horn. At $8,500, it makes a Navaho shirt seem hideously expensive. Dawson also has six wooden Burmese sculptures of deities that once graced a 17th-century temple roof. They are gracefully withered and a reasonable $7,500 a piece.

There are works that verge on both folk and outsider art like an Arthur Gonzalez sculpture at the John Elder Gallery. Titled Cadence of Stupidity: Love Story, this work is a plaster form like a ship's prow female figure cradling a miniature Pinocchio and bearing the mousetraps or snares that the fairy tale creature constantly encounters.

There's even neo-realism in the guise of a miniature bronze horse by the Canadian sculptor Joe Fafard at the Saskatchewan Susan Whitney Gallery. The horse is dappled grey and just over four feet high -- perfect for draping coats over and at hardly thoroughbred prices. At $22,000, he's already sold. Also on her stand is a cast iron coffee table à la Diego Giacometti by Victor Cicansky. Nestled among its branches are pears but in color. The table is only $7,500.

Yes, there are decidedly crafty works on the floor from kitsch bawdy carved figures to low level casino glass in acid colors. But the prize for the most hilarious has to be a series of cat creatures made out of imitation Persian rugs by Gerald Heffernon at the John Natsoulas Gallery. But that's all part of how this art field is percolating these days.


BROOK S. MASON is Artnet Magazine's decorative arts columnist.