By Julie Shapiro
TRIBECA — Sasson Soffer would have loved the comprehensive show of his work that opened last week at TriBeCa's Tachi Gallery — if only he had lived to see it.
Soffer, an abstract painter and sculptor, died in 2009 at the age of 84, more than 40 years since he was last featured in a local gallery show.
"Half the time I'm crying, and half the time I'm so excited," said Stella Sands, Soffer's widow, as she gave a tour of the bright, exuberant work last week. "I wish he could be here to see it."
The exhibit came about purely by chance.
Sands was at the Landmarks Preservation Commission a couple years ago to correct violations at Soffer's Grand Street studio when she met a friend of Joe Scarpinito, the real estate developer who was starting Tachi Gallery in his new Pearline Soap Factory building at 414 Washington St.
One thing led to another, and Sands soon showed long-unseen artwork to Scarpinito. Even though the paintings were coated in dust and dirt from decades of sitting in the artist's studio, Scarpinito was captivated.
"It was phenomenal," Scarpinito said. "There was so much depth to it."
Scarpinito cleaned and reframed the paintings, had several new lithographs printed and priced the work from $2,500 to $220,000.
Rather than focusing on one period of Soffer's career, the show spans several decades and includes many of Soffer's deep blue acrylic collages, some with distorted faces and others scrawled with faux-Arabic characters that recall Soffer's upbringing in Iraq.
There are also maze-like acrylic and pastel drawings and even several sculptures, small examples of the monumental works of welded tubing that Soffer created later in his career.
Sands believes her husband focused on the color blue because of its depth and its eternal quality. The sky and ocean are always blue, while colors like green and red appear and disappear from the landscape, Sands said.
However, Soffer did not like to explain his work, even to his wife.
"He will never tell you, 'This is an eye,'" Sands said. "He'll say, 'Art is what you see in it.'"
Soffer's work has been shown locally at the Whitney Museum, and his public sculptures have been displayed at Lincoln Center and in Battery Park. He also showed internationally, including in China, Israel and Cuba.
However, as Soffer's sculptures got larger, it was harder for him to get gallery space to show his work, so it has been decades since so many of his paintings and sculptures have been shown together, Sands said.
As Soffer weathered the ups and downs of the art world, he was always adamant about not judging other artists' work, or his own, Sands said.
"If anybody had his heart in his work, that was good enough," Sands said.
The Sasson Soffer exhibit is on view through Sept. 10 at Tachi Gallery, 414 Washington St.