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Compared to many of the sprawling trade show fairs at Art Basel Miami Beach, the Aqua Art Fair feels like going to a family reunion. It is oddly comfortable but oh-so-slightly embarrassing, as if at any moment your Aunt Doris is going to start telling people about that time you peed in your pants onstage during that elementary school play.

Aqua features exciting, high caliber emerging work, but there’s also a lot of lame stuff that fits into a Juxtapoz/street art/big-eyed cartoon aesthetic, the kind of stuff teenagers would like. A teen-aged aesthetic is better than nothing, but I prefer work that offers more challenge and depth. Most of the work at Aqua is pretty in a formal sense, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and about half of it feels substantial, which is actually not a bad ratio for a contemporary art survey. In addition, the majority of the work in this fair is small, with lots of drawing and editions of prints. There are paintings and sculpture here as well, but it all has to fit into tiny hotel rooms. If you are a young collector and you want work that is pleasurable to look at, this is the perfect fair to start with. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, so this fair is highly affordable for a new collector.

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Aqua is one of the few hotel fairs left in the Art Basel Miami Beach continuum and it’s charming, with an adorable courtyard full of gushing fountains, palm trees, and twinkling lines of white Christmas lights. It features just enough galleries in its two story space to be interesting but not overwhelming, and it has a few little tiki bars and a coffee shop in the front. Looking at art in hotel rooms is always awkward, but on the bright side, there’s never a line for the bathroom.

This year at Aqua I ran into the work of a number of artists I know and like, and a number of Baltimore/Washington artists, so that was an added bonus. Katherine Mann and Nora Sturges topped my list with work in the Canadian Lonsdale Gallery space. Baltimore’s Eric Finzi had a solo show with Arizona-based Perihelion Arts. Mayer Fine Art showed DC artist Victoria Gaitán. The Washington, DC-based Hamiltonian Gallery featured sculptural works by Lisa Dillin, amazing photos of colored ice melting by Sarah Knobel, Joshua Haycraft, Annette Isham, and Zac Willis. Morton Fine Art, also from DC showed Maya Freelon Asante and Viktor Ekpuk. And, Atlanta’s Get This! Gallery featured Andy Moon Wilson’s amazingly detailed drawings and the patterned collages by Matthew Craven, which both top my list of art to buy.

The text-based work in the LA-based Charlie James Gallery space was my other favorite from this show, effectively leveraging the credibility of NY-based William Powhida to lesser known artists like Steve Lambert, Packard Jennings, Sandow Birk, and Michelle Andrade. I wanted to buy this whole booth!

IMG_7245Andy Moon Wilson

IMG_7231Katherine Mann

IMG_7236Nora Sturges

IMG_7259Hamiltonian’s Lisa Dillin and Sarah Knobel (her icescape is pictured below)

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IMG_7262 “Bathroom Whispers” was hilarious at Hamiltonian