That's what the acronym SOFA stands for. It is an enormous exhibition that recently celebrated its 25th year of existence at Navy Pier. People from around the world come to display their pieces of artwork like an open market with artists sheltered in their own section with their greatest (and most expensive) pieces of work surrounding them. It's open to the public—both amateurs and other professionals who want a tangible idea as to how far their creations could go. However, from the perspective of an amateur, exploring an exhibition like this was intimidating.
SOFA Exhibition. 2018.Jazmin Aguilar
At SOFA, you see things that are worth more than a used car—maybe even more than that because I stopped looking at the prices after a while. The exhibition was a major beatdown for me because there's a certain level of expertise all these people displayed in their work and looking back at mine again really depleted most of the self-confidence I had tucked away somewhere inside me.
Firstly, they use materials I would never find at Michael's or any other arts and craft store.
In one selection, there was a vase actually carved out of crystal. It was branded with a whopping $18,000 dollar price sticker. I don't know anything about crystal, but I've never seen anything like that vase. How does one get that much crystal and have the steady hands to form it into a vase?
Secondly, these finished pieces are from spontaneous ideas. Who looks at their bathroom and decides, "oh, I should really make a mini scene here", as pictured below? Pursuing these ideas require time and draft pieces—two things art students like myself really struggle with in terms of money and time management.
Small section in Lurie GalleryTaken by Jazmin Aguilar
Entire Piece in Lurie Gallery. Miniature figures interact with lifesize items. Taken by Jazmin Aguilar
I guess if you really believe in something, anything you do really makes itself in the end.
The value of some pieces was pretty upsetting, according to my professor the next day during class. I thought the prices were appalling but somewhat valid because of the time it would take to finish the piece and the quality of the material. Looking back on it though, I did recall some pieces that were worth hundreds and looked like they were made of plastic.
Plastic is not worth a lot, and it really isn't worth enough to put any influence on our feelings. Kids get toys made of plastic for $10 and it manages to shoot darts. After a month, it's stashed in a bin—it was only great for a moment.
Art is subjective, we can all agree on that, but if the material price doesn't accurately match the value of the item, what is that artist really doing? Art is personal as it is the beholder of the artist's dreams and fault. How can they put a price on channeling simple human emotions?
Some people become artists for one great masterpiece and then everything else they make only has value because of their name. It's true. Have you ever gotten angry looking at a painting with three black lines on it? Artwork like that exists.
I ran into another set of work that displayed jewelry at the event. Many of the pieces were very beautiful and intricate, made of all kinds of material. My eyes fell to a pair of dangling earrings. They looked like plastic squares covered and dabbed with layers of other colored rectangular pieces. They looked like jewelry you'd find at Burlington in the kid's section. It was so off-putting because everything else looked so nice and pretty and then there was that, all sitting around the same price.
I can't stop anyone from spending money on art and I can't change someone's sense of style. Nevertheless, exhibitions make me feel content. Knowing people can make big bucks from their love of art is exciting, and it gives me hope for the future for myself. The people I saw and met managed to get a unit in an international exhibition and, if they were lucky, sell their pieces. They put in the hard work and in reality, an art student is in no position to have a say about the price of art. Not yet.