The Sweet Art Gallery in Naples, Florida, is a 14,000-square-foot contemporary art mecca that is home to works by more than 45 established artists. Opened in 2005, the gallery was one of the first to offer contemporary art in a more traditional market. The owner, Dede Sweet, set out to educate people about art and help them build small to large collections of value. “We help collectors go beyond what art will look good with their couch or rug,” Sweet says. “Art has to talk back to you. You have to love it.”
The gallery’s impressive roster of artists means there is an ever-rotating inventory, so there’s always something new and exciting to see. If you aren’t in Florida, Sweet says the best way to shop for art is to visit the gallery’s website and see what speaks to you. With so much space, the gallery specializes in large-format paintings and triptychs up to 12 feet long. If you have a particular space in your home you need to fill, you can contact the gallery, send a photo of your room and they will photoimpose art into your space so you can choose. When you find the perfect piece—or pieces—it will be delivered via a white-glove mover who only handles art.
As for the artist representation, the list is long—and it is esteemed. There’s Al Razza, a globally collected abstract artist who creates tactile geometric works that walk the line between order and chaos. There’s Mary Ann Flynn-Fouse, an abstract expressionist with a distinguished 60-year career. Brenda Belfield is a vibrant abstract painter who also designed 60 stained-glass windows at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Dennis Elliott, the former drummer for the band Foreigner, sculpts symbolic sculptures from large burls. Elliott is also represented at the Smithsonian Museum.
Sweet loves her artists with great verve, and they love her right back. “I get to know the artists personally,” she says. “It’s a joy for me to find that perfect house for a painting. I’m always thinking, ‘Who deserves this painting? Where does it need to exist for the next 100 years?’” She points out that there are no prints or giclées in the gallery; everything is original art. “People deserve art made with intention by real hands!” she exclaims.
As we talk, Sweet is telling me it’s a great time to buy art. Apparently it is, because she is simultaneously talking to me and dealing with a bidding war on a piece that is so recently arrived, it’s still propped up at the back door. When Sweet says it’s a great time to buy art, she has a holistic, bird’s-eye view. First, she is concerned about her artists. “With COVID, there’s been such an interruption. Artists have lost their outlets. This last year, we’ve concentrated on showcasing them in print and social media. We’re in Florida, but our artists are from all over,” she says.
It’s also a good time to buy art because the works produced during a year of introspection are turning out to be next-level. “It’s been a good time for artists,” she says. “They’ve been working in solitude for a year, and it’s all so beautiful.”
Sweet also knows people are ready for a change. “I think people have been holed up in their residences, and now they’re ready for a fresh look. It’s easier to buy a piece of art than it is to renovate a room, and believe me, art can change a room instantly,” she says.
Sweet is also looking to the future and ready for a change. “I’m looking forward to everyone coming out again and to being with people who appreciate art. I hope we can all start enjoying finer things again—family, health and living a beautiful life,” she says. “In the meantime, we’re here and available.” *
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.