Category: Arts + Events Articles
In December 2005, a Seattle husband-and-wife team—photographer Dirk Park and painter Jaq Chartier—did the unthinkable: They crashed one of the most prestigious art parties in the world. But what’s more, they did it by putting together one of the most talked-about independent showcases in the history of the acclaimed Art Basel Miami Beach art fair—and they’ve been doing so every December since.
For a few days each winter, the city known for Crockett and Tubbs, Elian Gonzales and the South Beach Diet becomes an epicenter for buying and selling contemporary art. The Art Basel Miami Beach art fair, founded in 2002, bills itself as “the most important art show in the U.S.,” and takes over the south Florida metropolis each December. “It’s like going to a very high-class shopping mall,” Seattle gallery owner and Art Basel Miami Beach veteran Greg Kucera says, “where all the stores are run by world-class galleries.”
Collectors and aficionados from all over the globe shop Miami’s version of the original international Art Basel (held in Switzerland since 1970), in an effort to discover new talent, shore up a stock of blue-chip investments or simply spot the art stars under their sun umbrellas. It’s a select art world scene, one weighted heavily toward New York with its established galleries and big-money collectors.
While attending the fair in 2004, Chartier and Park noticed that West Coast galleries (outside of a few famous ones in L.A.) were poorly represented—despite their large numbers and high caliber of artists. “We wanted to figure out a way to change that,” says Chartier. So a few days after Art Basel had finished, Chartier and Park (the latter of whom cofounded Platform Gallery in Pioneer Square) wandered down to the beach, talking over what they had seen and how they would like to bring more West Coast artists into the Miami mix. They envisioned a satellite fair—one concurrent and close to Art Basel Miami Beach, but with a different focus. And then they saw the palm trees.
“We saw these palm trees peeking over a courtyard, and there was the Aqua Hotel,” recalls Chartier. Like 21st-century versions of 16th-century Spanish explorers, Chartier and Park had stumbled upon their future in the south Florida sun. It was just the sort of space she and her husband had envisioned for their satellite fair. “We talked to the dealers, and they were excited, and the hotel owners were open, and so we decided to go for it,” Chartier says. Thus, Aqua Art was born.
In December 2005, the Aqua Hotel—normally filled with everyday tourists—became the south Florida playground for Seattle galleries like Platform, SOIL and Greg Kucera. “We transformed this hotel into a white-box gallery space,” Kucera says of that first year. “We took the doors off, removed the fixtures…and shoved [everything] into this little bathroom. It was really something.”
The fair was a huge success. Critics from New York to L.A. back to Miami lauded it as a breakthrough, with NY Arts writer D. Dominick Lombardi calling Aqua “the coolest fair that I saw,” and Miami’s The Art Newspaper declaring that Aqua made a “significant splash.” Kucera, who has moved on from Aqua to Art Miami (yet another art fair), tips his cap to the founders. “The thing is to admire Jaq and Dirk for their bravery,” Kucera says. “They did it.”
But more important than the media accolades was the exposure for Seattle artists. “People were throwing business cards at us,” Chartier laughs.