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Thousands Dazzled by Exhibits at Navy Pier’s Sculpture Objects and Functional Art Fair

From far away, Kevin Box’s “Center Peace” appears to be seven pieces of crumpled paper mounted on a black background. A closer view reveals that the crumpled paper is actually part of a sculptural piece of art made from cast bronze on aluminum. The models are paper-thin and each piece has unique creases and crumpling. The seven pieces make up a sequence that depicts the process of a piece of paper starting out flat, gradually being crumpled, being scrunched up into a ball and then flattened out again.

Box’s work was displayed at the Sculpture Objects and Functional Art Fair held in Navy Pier’s Festival Hall during the weekend of Nov. 6. His pieces were exhibited by Niemi Sculpture Gallery and Garden, located in Kenosha, Wis.

The SOFA show is a three-day exposition of design, decorative and fine arts. International galleries and dealers present a variety of artwork created by artists from around the world, including furniture, decorative sculptures and jewelry. This year, the show presented work from 68 top galleries and dealers from 10 countries. Since its start in 1994, the exposition has grown steadily. It started with 14,000 attendees and its attendance has since increased more than 100 percent.

One of the most interesting aspects of Box’s display was the “Please Touch” motto of the exhibit. While the rest of the displays in the exposition posted signs reading “Please Do Not Touch” or “Ask for Assistance,” Box’s showcase did the opposite. Viewers were not only permitted but also encouraged to spin the sculptures around and touch the fragile models of paper. The casual interaction between the artwork and the viewer made the exhibit’s atmosphere more comfortable and intimate, because the observers could get close to the pieces and really look at them without feeling uneasy near the fragile work.

Also displayed in the Niemi Sculpture Gallery and Garden exhibit was the sculptural work of Bruce Niemi, who is the owner of the gallery and has been creating sculptures for nearly 40 years. Niemi mostly works with stainless steel, bronze and stonework. He was introduced to sculptural art by his father, who was a self-taught sculptor and ornamental iron artist. Most of Niemi’s sculptures are rather large, reaching heights of up to 17 feet. However, his standing sculptures displayed at the SOFA show were closer to 10 feet and he also included some smaller wall sculptures.

Niemi’s metalwork involves large base pieces with smaller thin pieces that curve and create most of the detail and shape. The artist explained that he draws his inspiration from things he loves in life, such as nature, the ocean, dance and even wrestling. “There are a lot of moves in wrestling that are actually very sculptural and beautiful,” Niemi said. He also expressed his goals when making his art. “I try to make my work positive and uplifting,” he said.

Keith Schneider is another artist whose work was on display at the SOFA show. His pieces were part of the exhibit presented by Sherrie Gallerie, which is based in Columbus, Ohio. Schneider creates hand-built and wheel-thrown earthenware. His piece entitled “Bertrand” is a ceramic dog that appears to be made of cloth. The dog has wheels for its back legs and wooden sticks for the front. Cloth-like scraps of green, blue and red make up the body of the dog, and it has buttons for its eyes and nose. The detail and intentional imperfections of the piece give it the appearance of a real cloth doll.

The variety of artwork at SOFA was the show’s most striking feature. Christian Faur’s “Forgotten Children” series created the silhouettes of a young boy and girl using 4,900 hand-cast crayons for each image. Scott Dooley’s hand-built porcelain teapots were earth-toned with crooked and angular forms. The ornate persian carpets displayed by Orley Shabahang were spread out on the floor and piled against the wall where people sat and discussed the pieces.

Even on a sunny fall day, crowds of people still chose to spend their Sunday afternoon indoors with the collection of art. While the crowd consisted of mainly middle-aged adults, there were also young families, students and senior citizens present.

Steven Shepard, a Chicago high school student, was introduced to the SOFA show when his art teacher told him about the fair. He was impressed by the variety of work he saw and would recommend the exposition to artists and non-artists alike.

Renie Norris, who works as an interpreter, learned about the SOFA fair in an art class she was working in. “I had no idea it would be so elaborate,” she said. Norris explained that she thought the fair was “very colorful and very interesting.” She also said she plans to attend the show next year and might even try to convince her neighbors to join her. “I like everything I see.”

The SOFA Chicago fair is an annual event and just celebrated its 16th year. It is also a national exposition and will be held in New York starting April 16 and in Santa Fe, N.M. starting July 8.

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