Art Miami buys Aqua Miami


One of the largest satellite art fairs buys a smaller one in South Beach to get a foothold in the lower end of the market.

Art Miami, a Midtown Miami fair that often features Picassos for sale, has purchased Aqua Miami, a smaller and edgier fair in South Beach.

Aqua gets its name from the South Beach hotel where it takes place, with exhibitors turning rooms into their temporary galleries in an effort to catch spillover traffic from the nearby Art Basel fair. Started in 2005 by an artistic couple from Seattle as a way to break into the Beach’s Basel circuit, the fair gives Art Miami a venue for the art world’s lower price points.

Aqua Miami bills itself as the most affordable of the satellite fairs, with the largest gallery space costing about $14,0000 for a 1,000-square-foot room inside the hotel. At Art Miami, galleries would pay $48,000 for 1,000 square feet, according to contracts posted on both fairs’ websites. Aqua Miami removes the beds from the hotel rooms for free, but taking out the TV bracket costs an extra $25.

“This is the breeding ground for young artists and galleries,” Art Miami director Nick Korniloff said of Aqua. “We have access to every tier of the art market now.”

The deal marks the latest expansion move for Art Miami, which begins Tuesday night in a temporary enclosed pavilion in Midtown Miami.

Art Miami’s ownership group launched a sister fair this year, Context Miami, in an adjoining pavilion in Midtown Miami, and also started a contemporary fair during President’s Day Weekend called Art Wynwood. Art Miami started a contemporary fair this summer in Southampton in New York. But Aqua is the first established fair Art Miami added to its portfolio.

Jaq Chartier, a Washington artist who started Aqua with her gallery-owner husband, Dirk Park, said they had taken Aqua as far as they could. While the Aqua Hotel sells out each year — save for a brief experiment with moving the fair to the Miami mainland — galleries tend to move on to larger fairs once sales hit a certain level, Chartier said.

“We keep losing people as they move up the ladder,’’ she said. “We kind of felt like we reached the ceiling of what we could do. We’re not a big art-fair corporation.”

Chartier said Art Miami’s standing with the country’s top galleries and collectors will help boost sales at Aqua, which rents space to about 50 galleries each year. Art Miami rents out 125 spaces, and Context another 65. Korniloff, an owner of Art Miami, said he plans to keep Aqua at its current location at Collins Avenue’s Aqua Hotel.

“We feel very strongly about having a presence on the Beach,” he said.

Terms weren’t disclosed. Chartier said: “It’s not a big amount, but it’s enough to give us a little breathing room” as she returns to painting full time and he devotes all his time to his Seattle gallery.

Read more Art Basel stories from the Miami Herald

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