Aqua Offers a Friendlier, Kinder Take on the Art Fair

Things get intimate at the hotel venue.

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Nam HuNoo, The Gear Eye at Space 776.
Photo: Aqua Art Miami.
Luc Merx, Damned.MGX chandelier
Photo: Aqua Art Miami.
Amy Genser, Swish, at Elisa Contemporary Art.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.
El Gato Chimney, Procession, at Antonio Colombo.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.
Greta Pratt, Rodney Parker ("Liberty Wavers" series) (2010–12), at Mayer Fine Art.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.
Jae Yong Kim, The Donut Series, at Victori Contemporary.
Photo: Sarah Cascone.

In the mood for a more compact venue in which to enjoy contemporary art after the sprawling Art Basel in Miami Beach? Look no further than Aqua Art Miami, which features 46 galleries exhibiting in intimate rooms at the Aqua Hotel.

Now in its 10th edition, Aqua is a welcome respite from the typical art fair, feeling more like a row of galleries in an arts district than anything else. The hotel rooms, which face each other along a quaint two-story courtyard, have been stripped of all furnishings, providing a blank canvas on which gallerists can hawk their wares.

“It’s more intimate, you’re not being pushed along with the crowd,” Sheila Stant of Mayer Fine Art told artnet News. She still recalls the fair’s early days, when the furniture remained in situ. “There was art spread out all over the bed and it was very funky. I think the fire marshals cracked down.”

Though times may have changed, Aqua still does things a little differently than the rest of Miami. “You can take chances and risks here that you can’t anywhere else,” admitted Jacqueline Cooper of Autobody Fine Art, Alameda, California. When artnet News arrived at her booth, artist Joe Mangrum was just completing a sand painting that took about three and a half hours. Mangrum, who has created temporary sand art installations at New York’s Museum of Art and Design and was on hand this week at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, has invented a special process that allows him to turn his ephemeral works into permanent creations. Although there were several examples of these fixed works at the booth, the piece created specially for the fair is not intended for sale—although “if someone wants to pay for [permanizing] it, sure,” the gallerist was quick to allow. (Mangrum currently has four days to go on a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to create a new series of permanent works to exhibit in New York.)

The Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University, an unusual art fair exhibitor, features Ion Yamazaki’s Up and Down, a repetitive performance in which wooden bricks are stacked progressively higher. The piece repeats today, with a video projection of the process serving as a stand-in during the rest of the fair. The artist, who makes the blocks used in the piece himself, told artnet News that the “process and product are both important.” As we were leaving, he was enlisting visitors to help him stabilize the increasingly precarious stacks.

For quality one-on-one time with an artist, be sure to check out the fair’s special exhibition by MK Guth, titled “Advice Station,” and presented by Elizabeth Leach Gallery. An Art Basel week veteran, Guth has solicited tons of advice about how to survive the crushing art and event onslaught from other seasoned fairgoers. You can get a tip from a fortune cookie, draw a slip from a fishbowl, or play a game on a paper fortune teller or cootie catcher. Advice ranged from the questionable (no, most people don’t look forward to the “lovely” drive along the Venetian Causeway to the Design District), to the practical (carry small bills for cab drivers), to the career-oriented (“don’t pitch to any galleries”).

Though most galleries artnet News checked in with on Wednesday evening had yet to make their first sale, the general sense seemed to be that the opening was a day for looking, and that collectors would be back to buy later on. One exception was Antonio Colombo, who had already found a buyer for one of the quirky paintings of anthropomorphized animals by El Gato Chimney. Ingeniously, the Milan-based dealer had set up the massive shipping crate used to ship its selection of artworks overseas to the fair as a desk in the middle of their room.

As gallerist Amy Morton of Morton Fine Art put it to artnet News, the Aqua experience works because “we kind of do business the way we do it at home.”




Go to artnet News’s Art Basel in Miami page for the latest coverage, including:

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