Right or wrong, Miami isn’t the first place I think of when it comes to contemporary art. After my father moved there a few years ago it became the January reprieve from the frozen winters in New England – the closest my migratory vacations ever came to resembling art were the modern scenes of Bacchanalia on South Beach. So when I flew down this past weekend to attend NADA and Art Basel Miami I figured that the air conditioned exhibition halls of the Deauville Hotel and the Miami Beach Convention Center (not so much a showroom as a horizontally disorienting airplane hanger, Cartesianly segmented by every major gallery from Beijing to Belgium) would be the only places to see anything of aesthetic interest, artistically speaking. Then I went to dinner in Wynwood.
Wynwood, as far as I can tell, is Williamsburg South. Same self-conscious nonchalance, simplistically delicious food and shady warehouses transformed into minimalist exhibition space. The arts scene is predictably thriving.
Wynwood’s tendency to be baldly beautiful most of the year (save for the yearly meteorological crapshoot that is hurricane season) actually gives it an atmospheric advantage over its northern brother: involved outdoor exhibitions in New York for that 120 day stretch of reserved hell from mid-November to the mid-March thaw are rarities and often are less mentally demanding than awesome out of weather based necessity. For example, people liked seeing Christo’s Gates in Central Park covered in snow because after their initial infatuation it was still a viscerally aesthetic project. Seasonality isn’t so harsh in Wynwood and Miami so outdoor projects have their limitations blown away—which is how we come to the Wynwood Walls.
Like most formerly industrialized barrios, Wynwood is flush with walls of blank space since processing sheet metal and chemicals doesn’t require much in the way of natural lighting. As the story typically goes, an enterprising real estate mogul (in this instance Tony Goldman, the developer credited with reviving SoHo) sees an underestimated opportunity in an underdeveloped neighborhood and invests, heavily. Mr. Goldman saw something of SoHo in Wynwood and eventually teamed up with gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch to commission murals by street artists Os Gemeos, Shepard Fairey, and Kenny Scharf, which now grace a multi-sectional courtyard bracketed by event spaces and moodily hip restaurants. The tumbling, prismatic pieces coat Wynwood’s physical infrastructure and are a welcome respite from the beautiful buzzing scrum at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
The walls were a simple catalyzing element, and once the concept of development-as-analgesic washed away installations and exhibitions and musicians filled the gaps between the walls; Kenny Scharf installed a “Cosmic Carestream” blindingly bathed in Day-Glo and neon. What was once meta-negative space became artistic opportunity.
It strikes me that urban planning and art often discuss the concept of the empty space as integral to completing a cogent concept: you can’t decide on the placement of two buildings without considering the road separating them just as you can’t see the form of a painting without seeing the blanks between brush strokes. The Wynwood Walls are a conflation of those theories, at once essentially urban and expressly artistic. At a time when the arithmetic of regeneration is becoming more difficult and cities are facing challenges beyond their own control we can’t forget that there is a powerful synergy between cities and the arts they ooze, sometimes from their very own walls.
In the next post, I will be discussing the emergence of the gallery scene in Culver City, Los Angeles, which like Chelsea, became the pulse of contemporary art in a city that is still attempting to divine its true nature.