Bill Meek, longtime owner of the Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, needed a showstopper for his final exhibit of the gallery’s 49th season. For the past five years, he’d finished off the spring with an exhibition of works by Will Barnet, the 101-year-old artist whom Meek has long been representing.
But with Barnet’s advanced age has come a slower output of work, and an exhibit Meek is curating in Boca Raton was cannibalizing the available inventory. Besides, it would be hard to top last year’s centennial retrospective of Barnet, complete with never-before-seen abstracts from his early years.
On a trip to New York, Meek wandered into a gallery and was struck with inspiration. The gallery’s excellent collection of watercolors from three American masters—Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth and Stephen Scott Young—would represent just the sort of blockbuster exhibit that could bring a buzz-worthy end to the season.
So with a bit of negotiating, Meek put together what should be one of the best art shows this year, in a town that is nothing if not a bit art crazy.
Even the cantankerous Barnet agreed.
“He said, ‘Well, they’re good enough to replace me,’ ” Meek says. “I think he was flattered I went to such lengths to find something to take his place.”
Certainly the Wyeth dynasty will draw the headlines. Although the exhibit won’t contain Andrew Wyeth’s more famous, and valuable, tempera paintings (think Christina’s World and the Helga series), there are still some striking pieces from the artist’s impressive catalog.
Christina’s Bedroom, painted just a year before the more recognizable work, sees her world in a more intimate setting with her black cat lounging on her bed in a shaft of afternoon sunlight. An animal is also the star of one of Jamie Wyeth’s best pieces in the show, the comical 2010 painting A Dog and the Great White Shark Jaw, in which a small dog stares in admiration and perhaps terror at the giant shark jaw hanging above the couch on which it sits.
One of the great stories to come out of this exhibit is also one of Meek’s proudest accomplishments. A mere two hours after getting his first shipment from the New York gallery—all told nearly 30 pieces with a value of $6 million will be on display—Meek sold one of Young’s dramatic watercolors to a local collector. But the destination for Almost Summer, which depicts a young girl in a school uniform standing on a stoop, looking at a cat at her feet, isn’t the collector’s wall. After the exhibition, the $85,000 piece will make its way to the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples and the collection Meek personally helped the museum start as a way to inspire children to appreciate visual arts.
“(The collection) could be the thing that opens the door to children becoming artists, patrons or collectors,” he says. “It’s a very positive message (for the art world).”