As a graduate student in the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design, Nicole Klein thought she knew art. Then she attended the Aqua art fair in Miami and saw a work of art similar—but much better, she says—to something she had created.
“It looked like Barbie threw up,” she said excitedly of a piece that included hair curlers, faux flowers, glitter and My Little Pony. “It was awesome.”
For the past two years, graduate students in art and design have had their minds blown and their identities as artists reshaped at Aqua, a fair that runs each December in conjunction with the world-renowned Art Basel Miami Beach, which attracts collectors and enthusiasts from near and far.
All third-year graduate students have the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work at Aqua. It is a grueling, months-long process that forces students to take a critical eye to all aspects of their art, from creation to exhibition to more mundane tasks, such as how to transport art without breaking it.
“This is an experience that defines our students as professional artists,” said Michael White, director of the school of art and design.
Aqua thrusts art and design students onto a stage that few reach and gives them a crash course in how to thrive, not just survive, as professional artists.
“Going to Aqua was a great introduction to art as a business venture,” said Candice Greathouse, who attended Aqua in 2011 and 2012.
Greathouse, who received a master’s degree in fine art in photography last year and is currently pursing a master’s in art history, said selling and creating art are two different skill sets and it’s important to have knowledge of both.
“Until you meet your potential customers, it’s hard to wrap your mind around that concept,” she said. “We went from having a dozen people see our art to thousands.”
Joe Peragine, an associate professor of drawing and painting who curates the Aqua exhibition each year, said the fair provides invaluable experience and is cited as one of the top reasons graduate students choose to attend the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design.
“It’s really preparing them to understand the realities of the art world in a way that time spent in a studio or classroom can’t,” he said.
Simply put, Aqua turns students into artists.
“Aqua motivated me to be a lot braver with my art, to really push myself,” Klein said.