Power couple Anne Meszko and Mark Lyman created Chicago’s own SOFA expo and will run it for the last time this year.
When Mark Lyman attended art scholar Garth Clark’s seminar on ceramics at the University of Michigan in 1977, he didn’t expect to meet the love of his life. Neither did Anne Meszko; an undergrad at the time, she was working at the Art & Architecture café on campus, where Lyman would dine during breaks. “I liked that he had a new pickup truck,” Meszko recalls. “He liked that I gave him free yogurt.” Three years later, they were married. And though children Nathaniel, 27, and Ellie, 23, are arguably their greatest collaboration, they’ve also created another lasting legacy: the Sculptural Objects Functional Art + Design expo, one of the most successful fine art fairs in the nation, whose 20th edition kicks off October 31.
It hasn’t necessarily been easy. “I came from an academic background,” says Lyman, a native of Stony Brook, New York. “I had always felt that if you had a great idea, people would just agree. But I had to go out and talk with art dealers and [make] them see how participating in this show would be good for their business. It was a much bigger job than I thought it was going to be.” Meszko’s concerns were more personal: “Trivial matters,” she jokes. “Things like paying the mortgage and providing for our two young children.”
Thankfully, art dealers, collectors, and enthusiasts came out in droves, with more than 10,000 people showing up for that first expo. This year, the show is expected to draw 34,000 people to nearly 80 exhibitors. Additional educational programming includes talks by artists, curators, and critics like Dan Dailey, Albert Paley, and Laura de Santillana.
Having founded the original expo from their living room in Habert, Michigan, 20 years ago, Lyman and Meszko have gone on to expand a second venture, The Art Fair Company, one of the largest buyers of art fair walls and lighting in the country. And although this year will officially be the last time they hold the reins—the couple has sold the show to a company called Urban Expositions—they will remain highly involved. “There were a lot of unknowns at the front end,” Lyman says of SOFA’s beginnings. “But we had an idea, and we wanted to go for it, so we did. And it worked.” SOFA runs October 31 to November 3 at Navy Pier