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SOFA New York:

by Brook S. Mason
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SOFA New York, Apr. 14-17, 2011, at the Park Avenue Armory, has long been famous as a platform for predominantly mainstream craft, featuring a predictable ubiquity of glass. For 2011, however, the fair has gotten considerably hipper. Now found at the 14th edition of SOFA are items as enticing and relevant as what you might see downtown. You could even call it "Chelsea North."

With its video lounge and an up-to-the-minute Twitter feed, SOFA is also unusually media savvy. The fair has added more lectures, and even feels more global. What's more, SOFA founder Mark Lyman has recruited octogenarian textile designer Jack Lenor Larsento launch the first annual LongHouse Reserve Awards for two categories: Best Artwork in Show, and Best Booth Design. Larsen, who is practically a national living treasure and one of only four Americans honored with a retrospective at the Louvre Museum, announces his selections on Apr. 14, 2011.

A total of 57 dealers from 12 countries are represented, many of them focusing on a synthesis of art and design. The fair is open through the weekend -- admission is $25 -- for those short on time, here are five not-to-miss examples of SOFA’s signature artistry.

London dealer Claire Beck at Adrian Sassoon unveils Maelstrom, a new design object by the British ceramist Michael Eden. Taking the very traditional form of the urn, beloved by Wedgwood and garden ornament fanatics, Eden gives it a contemporary spin with high velocity design and colors like lime green. “The form is computer generated, and then printed in multiple layers of nylon with a mineral coating,” explains Beck. While Maelstrom has already sold, Eden also offers tureens from an edition of 24, each of which begins at $6,550.

New work by Michael Lucero, who just moved to Faenza, Italy, is shown by Duane Reed Gallery from St. Louis. Back in the ‘70s, Lucero coiled actual Missoni yarn around his ceramics, which were notable for their expressively painted figurative surfaces. His latest work is more expressive of Italian street culture. “He’s incorporating actual Italian shirting as well as applied images of Italian street vendors, many of whom are African,” says Reed, of the over five-foot tall ceramic figures. Priced at around $15,000 each, Lucero’s new ceramics turn up the heat, and offer a reflection on the thrift shop esthetic of fellow craftsman Charles LeDray.

With gunfire ever more disturbingly dominant in the news, Dutch artist Ted Noten, who is exhibiting with Ornamentum Gallery from upstate Hudson, N.Y., has taken his firearms to a new level. His Uzi Mon Amour, 24-karat gold plated and packaged in Plexiglas, is tagged with a Damien Hirst-like price of $92,000. Yes, it’s a real gun, in an edition of five -- and one has already sold. Considering that Noten’s Lady K, a pocketbook-sized pistol, went for $52,000 in 2008, the price for the Uzi seems reasonable.

A fantastic blown-glass biomorph by British artist Michael Petry can be found at the booth of Berengo Studio 1989 from Venice, a work made while Petry was serving as the artist-in-residence at London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum this winter. There he feasted on Soane’s vast collection of antiquities and took the proliferation of “disturbing nighttime spirits” as his inspiration. A work like Bad Seed (2010) "plays on the tale that Soane’s son George was a demonic Regency rake,” says Petry. "It’s Gothic in feel -- slightly creepy.”

Thames & Hudson just published Petry’s book The Art of not making , which explores the artist/artisan relationship, using as examples artists like Ai Weiwei and Subodh Gupta. That tome is certain to draw more attention from the contemporary art world. 

The South Korean artist and craftsman Jaehyo Lee, whose works in charred wood give new meaning to the notion of marquetry, is represented by Cynthia Reeves Projects from Hanover, N.H. Lately, Lee has racked up a string of achievements, that includes his first U.S. museum retrospective (now at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama), a number of commissions from a Fortune 500 company, and his inclusion in the contemporary sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong earlier this month, where his prices jumped to nearly four times their estimates. Reeves has an example of his biomorphic chaises on view, and offers a unique screen that may be had on commission.

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.