The first weekend of November, Navy Pier’s Festival Hall was swarming with art collectors, artists, tourists and gallery owners who have traveled many miles to visit the 19th annual Sculptural Objects Functional Art & Design Fair (SOFA). But few traveled as far as Melbourne, Australia-based Kirra Galleries, which was the only Australian gallery present at this year’s annual art fair, the largest for art made from craft material, including glass.
Every year it’s a struggle to travel over 9,500 miles to Chicago, but for the past nine years Suzanne Brett and Vicki Winter of Kirra Galleries have brought their exotic Australian accents and a sense of humor to the longest running art fair in Chicago.
“We never know if we’re coming until the last minute,” Suzanne Brett, Kirra Galleries gallery manager told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet. “This year we received a grant from the Australian Government which made it possible to showcase artwork that demands attention from America.”
Since 1997, Kirra Galleries has exhibited glass, sculpture and jewelry that are considered part of an Australian Contemporary Art Glass movement. SOFA Chicago is a gateway for advancing Australian glass artists into the American spotlight, according to Brett, who added that the gallery draws artists from around the Pacific Rim. Kirra showcases a stable of Australian-based artists who originate from around the world, including South Korean Mikyoung Jung, Japanese-native Takemura Yusuke and Tavita Havea of the Pacific Islands. With the combination of cultural backgrounds and design influence, each artist created an international flair to the SOFA booth.
“It’s important for us to bring artwork that is different than what other galleries show,” says Brett. “We want to make it exciting for people to come see our booth.”
Brett is no stranger to the art world. As a gold and silversmith, she knows how difficult it can be for artists to approach galleries. Brett is always on the hunt for artists who are committed to their practice so they can build a gallery-artist relationship.
While Hurricane Sandy played a large role in a smaller visitor turnout this year — keeping many regular SOFA-goers stranded on the East Coast —Kirra Galleries is uncertain but hopeful for future years of SOFA.
“We feel so welcome in Chicago—it’s like coming home,” says Brett. “We’d like to come back for another nine years because it’s so important to continue helping Australian artists get exposure in the United States.”