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Aqua Art Miami is familiar yet different

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When Art Miami LLC acquired Aqua Art Miami earlier this year, the new owners promised to retain its distinctive character. As the 2013 Aqua Art Miami demonstrates, that promise has been kept – and then some.

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Aqua Art Miami provides a showcase for new artists, younger galleries, and established galleries showing younger artists. It also gives regional galleries access to a diverse international marketplace as collectors, museum curators, and other art cognoscenti descend on south Florida for Art Basel Miami Beach and other Art Week activities.

Upholding its commitment to a regional presence, Aqua Art Miami 2013 included galleries from outposts of creativity as diverse as Cleveland, OH; Farmville, VA; Milwaukee, WI; Norfolk, VA; St. Louis, MO; and Seattle, WA. New in 2013 was the extent of foreign participation, with galleries from Beijing, Berlin, Moscow, Paris, and Seoul as well as several from Canada.

Each year, Aqua Art Miami takes over the entire Aqua Hotel in Miami Beach’s Art Deco historic district, a charming two-story, 47-unit structure built in 1953. The hotel furnishings go into storage and each room or suite becomes a separate exhibitor’s booth. All open onto a central courtyard where libations are poured and visitors mingle. It’s a less intense, more relaxed ambiance than the larger fairs can offer.

Ideal concept

Aqua Art Miami’s concept was ideal for Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee, which exhibited works by the late Bernard Gilardi. Debra Brehmer, the gallery’s director, said Gilardi’s paintings have been shown in Wisconsin and in one Chicago gallery, but this is his first exposure outside the Midwest.

Brehmer said one painting at Aqua Art Miami – Untitled (feet touching), 1972 – reflects Gilardi’s acceptance of change in his neighborhood on the near north side of Milwaukee, where white residents moved out as black residents moved in until Gilardi’s was the only remaining white family.

Gilardi served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Afterward, he took at least one art course, but didn’t pursue formal art studies further. Instead, he worked as a dot etcher for Milwaukee-area lithography companies, set up a studio in the basement of his home, and began painting. “His wife hated his work,” Brehmer said. “She wouldn’t let him bring his paintings upstairs.”

By the time he died in 2008, Gilardi had created and stored in the basement nearly 400 oil paintings. His daughters felt they had merit, began contacting galleries, and established a relationship with Portrait Society Gallery.

First U.S. show

Also reaching out to a new audience was Korean artist Mari Kim, whose first solo U.S. exhibition was presented by EJMQ gallery in Seoul, Korea. Kim’s art reflects her training as an animator. She uses bold lines and vivid hues to form simple, idealized images of young women with outsized, soulful eyes.

Cat Woman, 1913, the centerpiece of Kim’s Aqua Art Miami exhibit, shows a demure young lady with a black mask and body suit, set against a dark purple background. Her eyes are wide and feline, ringed with dark mascara and thick lashes. Does her gaze say ‘Come hither’ or
‘Beware’? You decide.

Faces in a crowd

Little Train Station (2001) by Li Zhanyang depicts The Railway Station of Chongoing (a variant spelling for Chongqing). The largest city in western China, Chongquing is best known in the West as the gateway to the spectacular landforms of the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges region.

The work is an intricate bronze sculpture with dozens of figures. Its foreshortened perspective heightens the sense of crowding as they wait for a train. The artist compressed this restless press of humanity into a metal cabinet about 4.6 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall, and 1.3 feet deep.

Political situation

Every Thing is Art!, a Moscow gallery, displayed Frog a-la Rus., an epoxide resin/acrylic sculpture. It consists of Siamese-twin frogs, dark and light green, with an arrow piercing their joint backside.

The artist, Lidia Vitkovskaya, was present on opening night. She explained that Frog a-la Rus. portrays Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, who share power today in an uneasy alliance. Each has supporters who oppose the other.

“The dark green frog is bad, and the light green frog is good,” Vitkovskaya explained.

But which frog is Putin, and which is Medvedev? “Imagine on your own who is who,” she replied.

To your good health

The Better Living Thru Chemistry Series by Edie Nadelhaft is an edition of nine glass capsules with a variety of colorful mixed-media contents.

Each capsule bears an individual identification code in text-messaging abbreviations, such as IMHO = in my humble opinion and TTYL = talk to you later. Nadelhaft, in an online statement, says:

“Inspired in equal parts by the ubiquitous presence of social media in contemporary culture and the simultaneous rise of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical marketing, the work pokes fun at the alternately amusing and depressing correlations between the two phenomena as both are enlisted to over-simplify the human condition and expedite contentment.”

Aphorisms and the land

Joe Wardwell is a landscape painter and social commentator. He overlays upon a pristine landscape a snatch of contemporary music lyrics questioning traditional ideals, raising environmental concerns, and addressing the complexity of life and the human condition.

Wardwell is a professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Washington, Seattle, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Boston University. Prole Drift gallery in Seattle brought several of his works to Aqua Art Miami, including WELL INTENTIONED BUT BAD ADVICE.

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