SOFA West, the international exposition that has become an annual exhibition force in Chicago and New York, began its third franchise, Santa Fe, with more than 10,000 visitors over a four-day span. Elegantly executed at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center from June 11 to 14, the event featured 35 international dealers, including several based in Santa Fe, and was the most visibly successful event at the center to date.
A competent and worthwhile lecture series was served in tandem to the exposition and, among other innovations that SOFA handled well, there were frequent Facebook posts that featured the participating dealers and objects as well as major sales.
Obviously sales were down from what people might dream about, but the event itself, at least as handled by SOFA, was seamless. Except for the carpet. Because we idiotically chose to put down expensive and patterned carpet in the Convention Center, presumably to exude Santa Fe Style, SOFA was forced to lay down a neutral gray that wouldn’t compete with the displays and would better manage the weight of the booths. The new carpet was so much the opposite of seamless that people frequently found themselves nearly sprawled on the floor.
Another smooth move Santa Fe made when constructing its multi-million-dollar center was to completely fail to prepare for any means of properly lighting the kinds of booths that routinely comprise such expositions. Fortunately SOFA was willing to pony up for its own lighting and the higher booth walls it necessitated. In the end, the lighting and booths looked outstanding, no thanks to our half-assed design. I don’t think disgruntled exhibitors felt compensated by all of our nice corbels.
But then, SOFA itself was underwhelming where it counts.
SOFA stands for Sculpture, Objects & Functional Art, so let’s break it down by category.
Sculpture: It was there all right or, at least, things crafted in three dimensions—if that’s what we mean by sculpture—were there.
Notably the Litvak Gallery from Tel Aviv brought a rarely seen work by William Morris, “Artifact Series No. 3 (Hunter),” a relatively spectacular, larger-than-life-size skeletal figure, all done in clear glass. On a low black display table, it was radiant, despite its gimmicky, illustrative nature.
There were many, many allegations of sculpture; some booths even included photographs of people sculpting, as though that might make it real. But the exhibits provided absolutely nothing to carry away in thought, abuzz in an invisible cloud of wonder, as one left the show and went on in the world. Nothing to change one irrevocably by the experience.
Objects: Ah, now here we have an apparent strong point for the SOFA crowd.
The place was absolutely littered with objects. More loosely defined than sculpture and with less expectation—who will decry the success or failure of an object?—things, doodads even, were in abundance at SOFA.
But then there is the schlock factor. It’s actually worse than that. Walking the halls of SOFA, with bright and jaunty crafts appearing from every crevice, one can feel the dark fingers of hyper-consumerist ignorance and the muffled thump of dirt that lands on the graves of the poor and disenfranchised while we dance our dance of cute tchotchkes and cuter credit cards.
Functional Art: There’s no denying that vases, cups and light fixtures are functional. So, does regular old art have no function? Is a vase art if it’s both functional and—what?—handmade? I did see art at least once: Teri Greeves of Jane Sauer Gallery exhibited a prayer blanket that was outstanding and impactful. Although one wonders what it means to sell a “prayer blanket” for $35,000. Some interesting prayers, no doubt.
My prayer, right up there with world peace (in fervency and likelihood) is that SOFA returns to Santa Fe with more substance than style.