Leslie Ferrin reports from Chicago, November 2014

Returning from SOFA Chicago this year, I was asked again and again, “How was it?”

Now in its 21st year, people wanted to know about the sales, attendance, and, of course, what was being shown.  My reply, “Indeed, the show does go on.”

Eva Kwong and Kirk Mangus at @mindysolomongallery at @sofaexpo #ferrincontemporaryontheroad

A photo posted by Leslie Ferrin (@leslieferrin) on Nov 11, 2014 at 5:05pm PST

High Octane Redhead — You are a force of nature! @hioctaneredhead Thanks for all you did. Your new studio and gallery space in Evanston is a great thing #sidetracked  More from “scene and seen” last week in Chicago #ferrincontemporaryontheroad   photo posted by Leslie Ferrin (@leslieferrin) on Nov 11, 2014 at 3:40pm PST

@stevenylee one of the #ceramictop40 artists is showing @sofachicago #ferrincontemporaryontheroad

photo posted by Leslie Ferrin (@leslieferrin) on Nov 11, 2014 at 10:42am PST

#Susan Beiner one of the #ceramictop40 artists showing @sofachicago #ferrincontemporaryontheroad A photo posted by Leslie Ferrin (@leslieferrin) on Nov 11, 2014 at 10:38am PST

#sergeiisupov show “Promenade” on view at Perimeter Gallery in Chicago #ferrincontemporaryontheroad

A photo posted by Leslie Ferrin (@leslieferrin) on Nov 11, 2014 at 9:58am PST

SOFA Chicago continues to be a gathering place for people in the field of contemporary decorative art and studio craft, despite the fair’s reduced scale and lack of diversity. Opening night, as always, is about the people: artists, longtime friends, colleagues, curators, and collectors. A wonderful whirlwind of meeting and greeting that makes it challenging, if not nearly impossible, to actually see the artwork on view.

As a former exhibitor, it is with some poignancy that I return to SOFA. First at New Art Forms in 1983 and then at SOFA from 1989 to 2011, Ferrin Gallery presented hundreds of individual artworks in curated group and solo exhibitions that included career highs for many of our artists. Now, only three years removed from that time with SOFA, the changes to the event seem significant. Only a smattering of works by the artists who once commanded the aisles appeared to be on view. The fair, now functioning under new management and ownership, is much smaller in scale and fully dominated by an overwhelming quantity of glass, shiny and heavily lit. Largely unedited, but still highly sought after, glass fills the floor plan, overflows walls, and hangs from above – making this fair still the best place in the world to see a full range of contemporary glass – blown, polished, cast, with or without videos – for sale.

For other media, however, there has been a marked attrition of American dealers. Gone as well, are the familiar clusters of British and Australian galleries that formerly presented large selections of clay sculpture, furniture, art jewelry, mixed media objects, and studio pottery have dwindled. The galleries that remain are to be commended for continuing to provide the opportunity for those attending the fair to view and experience works “in person” rather than as digital images. The not-for-profit exhibition by Anderson Ranch, celebrating its 50th anniversary, picked up some of the slack by showing and selling single works by their esteemed teaching faculty.

Walking the aisles, I did enjoy seeing artwork by some of the artists from Ceramic Top 40: Susan Beiner, Andy Brayman, Cristina Cordova, Leopold Foulem, Rain Harris, Steven Young Lee, Lauren Mabry, and Jason Walker as they were presented by various galleries.

The special presentation of works by the recently passed Kirk Mangus at Mindy Solomon Gallery, accompanied by a lecture and book signing for MOCA Cleveland’s “Things Love” exhibition of Magnus’ works, were of particular sentimental significance.

Also of note was Michael Strand’s NCECA (the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) sponsored lecture  “Across the Table: Craft Practice Beyond the Object.” It examined the role of objects in the 21st century as catalysts for community building and social change through past, present, and future projects. The lecture was presented as part of SOFA’s always engaging lecture series.

Beyond SOFA, gallery hopping in Chicago included visits to Perimeter Gallery to take in selected works from Sergei Isupov’s solo exhibition Promenade, as well as a serene installation of contemporary ceramics by masters of the medium. Also on view were paintings by Christian Vincent at Ann Nathan Gallery and Kahn Selesnick’s Truppe Fledermaus project (previously exhibited as part of COVET  back in 2012) at Carl Hammer Gallery .

A studio visit with Dana Major and Rodrigo Lara Zendejas gave me the opportunity to see Mana Contemporary Chicago, a large, renovated industrial building filled with artist studios as well as exhibition and presentation areas. Seeing this building provided a moment of comparison to our own industrial-building-turned-art-space project: Independent Art Projects (IAP). IAP is a collaborative art space, co-founded by Ferrin Contemporary and CYNTHIA-REEVES in June 2014, and located in building 13 on the MASS MoCA campus. IAP features ongoing installations of works from our current projects. Visting Mana afforded me the opportunity to imagine what our nascent project may someday evolve to be. Click through to read more about expansion projects at MASS MoCA profiled in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe.

#FERRINCONTEMPORARYONTHEROAD is a visual photo stream diary of people and objects related to ceramics, both historic and contemporary, as seen in both private and public collections and at fairs and galleries. The images, photographed by Leslie Ferrin, are generated through Instagram as she traverses the world and sends images wherever wifi and phone service permit. Find related content on Tumblr, Facebook, and FerrinContemporary.com.
Follow along. Questions and comments are very welcome.



On a recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, it was remarkable to see how the new selections from the permanent collection, currently on view made by curator, Emily Zilber reflect the work we are doing to prepare a private collection for sale this fall. As one generation of collectors “deaccess”, through sale and gifts, the museums are getting to define the period that is both now and then.



Since 2010, Emily Zilber, the Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts (a position within the Contemporary Art Department) at the MFA Boston, has taken her job and run with it.  Barely catching her breath after installing her ground breaking exhibition “New Blue and White”(which closed in July) she turned her attention to a reinstallation of the permanent collection.  On August 3, 2013 the dedicated gallery of contemporary decorative arts reopened and clearly shows the support she is getting from a core group of private collectors and within her institution.  Her choices from the permanent collection blend a hybrid mix of categories –  without prejudice or typical hierarchy – positioning the masters of studio craft and material based sculpture side by side with cutting edge explorations of concept that include photography and design.

The MFA named its contemporary craft gallery in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art after another power pair of benefactors Daphne and Peter Farago, whose collection was assembled with an encyclopedic eye to history and legacy.  Opened in 2011 with “Crafting Contemporary: Selections from the Daphne Farago Collection”, the first installation was an overview drawn from the over 950 objects that have been donated to the museum in Mrs. Farago’s lifetime.   This newest installation reflects the numerous recent acquisitions, both gifts and purchases – all identified with red squares.  Zilber’s choices show a wide range from  recent conceptual work by Nicole Cherubini, photography by Lauren Kalman adjacent to a loveseat by Wendel Castle and Tom Patti’s 1980 work in glass.

Zilber is one of the new generation of curators who are tackling the ongoing transition spanning a time period that combines primary cutting edge works by living artists with seminal works by those who carved out this field.  Her curatorial practice with the support of the MFA Boston and their benevolent private collectors is providing leadership for the way museums acquire and present contemporary decorative arts.

Emily Zilber is the MFA Boston’s first Ronald L. and Anita C. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts, joining the museum in October 2010. She is responsible for the MFA’s program of contemporary decorative arts, including guiding acquisitions and developing a presence for this material in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art and throughout the museum. She oversees the MFA’s Daphne and Peter Farago Gallery. Recent projects include the exhibition New Blue-and-White, which focuses on contemporary interpretations of ceramic history by makers across media. Emily Zilber has edited and written for numerous publications and speaks regularly on topics related to 20th-century and contemporary decorative arts, craft, and design. She recieved a BA in Art History from The University of Chicago and an MA from the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture.


About Daphne and Peter Farago

About Lauren Kalman, represented by Sienna Patti Contemporary

About private collections represented by Ferrin Contemporary

About New Blue and White curated by Emily Zilber at the MFA Boston

NYC May 2013 at Collective design fair with the art dealers from left to right  Lewis Wexler, Sienna Patti and Stefan Friedemann at Collective.1, New York, NY “building collections – one object at a time”

NYC May 2013 at Collective design fair with the art dealers from left to right Lewis Wexler, Sienna Patti and Stefan Friedemann at Collective.1, New York, NY “building collections – one object at a time”

Emily Zilber, curator and Mark Cooper, artist , listening to Thomas Michie – about newly reinstalled Dutch rooms in context of New Blue and White, MFA Boston through July 14. His site specific work is one of the nearly 40 artists, designers and collaborators who are showing recent works in ceramic, glass and mixed media. #newblueandwhite meets #oldblueandwhite at #mfa #boston with #markcooper (at Museum of Fine Arts)

Emily Zilber, curator and Mark Cooper, artist – in conversation about his recent installation New Blue and White, MFA Boston through July 14. His site specific work is one of the nearly 40 artists, designers and collaborators who are showing recent works in ceramic, glass and mixed media.