VISUAL CANDY

by ALAENA HOSTETTER / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

Much like the seasonal hurricanes that dance across South Florida’s coastlines, Dede Sweet of Sweet Art Gallery is another local force of nature, albeit a friendlier, constructive force. An art dealer in Naples for the past 24 years, she’s amassed one of the largest gallery spaces around these parts, with one of the deepest artist rosters—45 artists who have produced more than a thousand works, all housed under one roof.

Two years ago, she joined forces with Clive Daniel Home 2, offering South Floridians a venue to view large contemporary art and furnishings in one space. Having that many artists in one gallery might lead one to believe quality has taken a back seat, but not here. “I represent masters of fine art who are in their 70s and 80s, oftentimes. They’ve done solo shows in museums and they’re professors. It’s just a different breed,” Sweet says.

One of Sweet’s standouts is Clemente Mimun from Palm Beach, a blue-chip artist who shows internationally. Sweet was “blown away” by his work when she first laid eyes on it at an established art fair. “I adored his art; I’m so drawn to it. He and his wife came to my booth and drove by my gallery. And they agreed to let me represent them. I’m like the little gallery that could,” she says with a laugh.

Clemente’s work is energetic—lines crisscross to reveal abstract figures. It’s almost frenetic at times, but behind the kinetic lines, colors and composition lend a calm feel. His paintings are analogous to life’s frenzy atop a calm, composed universal order.

“He’s one of my most collected artists; some of my clients have nine of his pieces,” says Sweet. “He also does commissions.” Other notable artists include Brenda Belfield, a trained stained-glass designer who worked on the Washington National Cathedral. Vibrantly colorful abstract— almost cubist—works take inspiration from the natural world, with titles like Before Dawn, Waterfall and Starry Night. “She sees things through light and prisms, and that reflects in her paintings. It’s almost like they’re glowing,” says Sweet.

Or consider Al Razza, who has a master’s degree from the illustrious Rhode Island School of Design. The professor and artist opened his own art academy in Boca Raton, Florida, and has shown solo at the Coral Springs Museum in Coral Springs, Florida. “As soon as that show ended all of that art came to the gallery,” Sweet relates gleefully. “It’s just phenomenal. His techniques are nothing like you’ve seen before. He received grants back in the 1980s to develop new processes. Everyone in the gallery has such a story behind them.”

Even with her many artists on board, Sweet constantly entertains new additions to her roster via a submission form on her website. “I’m always excited to meet new artists and give them a boost in their career if possible,” she says.

One of the newer artists to join Sweet Art Gallery is Ingrid Cohen from Boca Raton, who managed to snag a coveted face-to-face with the busy gallerist. “She loaded up everything in her van to show me. I don’t think I sent any back—that rarely ever happens,” says Sweet. “She blew me away.”

With tons of new submissions, Sweet says she’s very careful to only add artists who are of the same level as her existing roster. “It’s also important to me that all of my artists get along and support each other,” Sweet says. “They’re almost like my family.”

To that end, “family” gatherings happen once a month at Sweet Art Gallery. The Art Alive series on the first Wednesday of each month is a traditional gallery show with all new works. It allows her artists and collectors to mingle shoulder to shoulder in the massive space. Sweet says people come from all over South Florida to these events.

“Our gallery has the best abstract contemporary artwork from both coasts,” says Sweet. “We’re representing the best artists and selling to some of the most prolific collectors. How did they hear about us? Word of mouth mostly. It’s been fantastic.”

Alaena Hostetter is a Dallas-based journalist.