All's Fair: Aqua Art

Only in its second year, Aqua Art Miami has already made its mark as one of the "established" fairs in the Basel Miami constellation. That’s a testament either to the short memories of the fairgoers or the long hours that the fair producers, artists Jaq Chartier and Dirk Park, have put into this event. I’m going with the latter, because Aqua is a well-run fair with strong galleries in the best little venue in town. The combination of intimate viewing spaces with a courtyard’s worth of light and air is unique to the Miami fairs.

© Joanne Mattera

Aqua Art was founded by Chartier and Park to provide a place for Northwest galleries to have a place to show. This let's-take-matters-into-our-own-hands is not a concept new to Miami. NADA did it four years ago, Pulse last year, and Flow this year. But those shows are organized by art dealers. Aqua was the first Miami event on such a scale to be organized by artists. (And it's not the last: Pool at the Cavalier Hotel was organized for artists by artists. Did anyone get there?)

Day into night: I arrived while it was still light out and departed after dark

Despite the Northwest niche, there's nothing regional about the art at Aqua, but it’s a useful niche and I hope that won’t change. The show is rounded out by galleries from California, Chicago, Boston and elsewhere. Let me tell you what I liked.

At Platform Gallery, I liked Jaq Chartier’s Test paintings. Working with acrylic paints, dyes, gels and photo chemicals, Chartier starts with an artist’s questions about how materials interact and ends up with astonishingly beautiful paintings that incorporate the organizing principle of the grid with the unforseeable results of her experimentation. She also had work at Schroeder Romero, which this year was at Pulse.

Jaq Chartier: Paintings from the Test series. And check out the great packing crates. Nice job, Jaq. Who’s your carpenter? At Platform Gallery, Seattle

I liked much of what I saw at Elizabeth Leach Gallery. There was a Gee's Bend quilt on the bed and a number of quilt prints on display. In particular, however, I liked Sean Healy’s resin sculpture, a luminous arc of cast pencils, that sat regally on a pedestal close to the floor.

Sean Healey: Test Protector, cast resin, 7 x 24 x 19", 2006, at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

At Eleanor Harwood Gallery the piece de resistance was Jill Silvia’s columnar scrim that fell upon itself into prim yet langurous folds. Closer inspection revealed this dimensional grid to be a long sheet of green ledger paper—many sheets joined end to end, I think— with the spaces between the lines meticulously removed. "Yes, it’s obsessive," offered the gallery person who saw me examining it. "But you meet this artist in person and she’s completely normal." Glad to hear that, because I’ve never seen anything so compulsive. I loved it!

Jill Silvia: Ledger paper with sections removed at Eleanor Harwood Gallery, San Francisco

At Gregory Lind Gallery, I liked Chris Duncan’s mixed-media drawings: geometric abstractions that look to be made with watercolor and pencil, their disparate segments sewn together with a zigzag stitch. I also liked Barbara Takenaga’s trippy mandalas. When I’m in San Francisco, which is about once a year, this gallery at 49 Geary is always on my list.

Gregory Lind surrounded by his exhibition, above; Chris Duncan works on paper, below

Away from the West Coast, I liked—as always—the work at Gallery Joe, one of my favorite Philadelphia galleries. I was particularly drawn to the small, meticulously rendered grids and stripes in watercolor by Nicole Phungrasamee Fein. Since it was impossible to capture the subtlety of the work in the light available, I went to the gallery’s website to pull an image.

Gallery Joe installation: cool, clean, sophisticated. That's gallery director Becky Kerlin at the desk. Below, Nicole Phungrasamee Fein: watercolor, about 6" square, with mat

At Western Exhibitions, based in Chicago, I liked the work on paper of Geoffrey Todd Smith, sweetly geometric abstractions composed of tiny hexagonal shapes in ink with some collaged elements. My digital photos of the installation were too blurry to use, so I pulled these images from the gallery website. Smith, whose work was unknown to me until this show, drew on the games and activities of his youth for the inspiration for this work.

Geoffrey Todd Smith: The Raspberry Recordings, 12 x 12" (top) and Romancing the Stoner, 17.5 x 17.5"; both acrylic, ink and collage on paper, 2006, at Western Exhibitions, Chicago

At Branch Gallery, from Durham, North Carolina, a painting was artfully displayed in the closet. These shows use every available space and surface, and the small but well-lit enclosure created a dramatic presentation for Mel Prest's painting, a dense tangle of layered lines that merited deep looking. My buddy Chris Ashley has written extensively about this San Francisco artist's work in his own blog, Look, See.

Mel Prest: in the closet at Branch Gallery, Durham, North Carolina

At Winkleman Plus Ultra, a New York gallery, I was taken with Jennifer Dalton’s cheerfully colored hand-drawn charts and graphs giving statistics of every conceivable sort regarding how artists live and work, gathered from research: what percentage of artists are represented by a gallery, where artists live, the relation of where they live to whether or not they're represented by a gallery, their sources of income, the percentage who have gotten a grant, the effect a baby has on an artist‘s artmaking, etc. Alas, the information is anything but cheery. And alas again, the gallery keeps a tight rein on the images. But I’d suggest art schools purchase a disk of the images and make it required reading for all their undergraduates. Just so they know what they’re getting themselves into.

Next up: Miami: Pulse