Look what you have done to this city. First you invaded Downtown, then came the Design District, then Wynwood, now Little Haiti. What’s next, Allapattah? What has happened? What have you brought us? Safer streets, more colorful walls, bustling shops – all good. But my one dollar cortadito in a tiny cardboard cup, made with patience and love, has been replaced. But no worries. This $10 latte served in a hand-fired ceramic mug designed in Tokyo and manufactured in Milan was made by a true master, the apprentice of a barista who lives in the Tibetan part of Brooklyn. It is an excellent latte. It is just different. This is real coffee, real Miami, real art. But who decides?
Andy Warhol said, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Maybe he was right. Money and working and good business is what Miami is all about. And look around. It is also all about art. Miami is becoming a, if not the, premier art destination in the United States. Museums, galleries, murals, pop up exhibitions, public art, global art fairs. But that is only part of the story. Art does not only activate our spaces. It is also in the air, in the water, and in the soil. And in our soul. People say, “Art saved Wynwood.” Then I also hear people say, “Art killed Wynwood.” Wynwood is dead. Long live Wynwood! But what was Wynwood? And what is it now? And what do they mean by art?
The place to expand the Basel brand
Maybe it was the siren call of art that lured the Drug Enforcement Agency to locate their 45,000-square-foot confiscated narcotics facility at 95 NW 29th Street in Wynwood. It most certainly was art that brought Mera and Don Rubell here in 1993. And it surely was art that inspired Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt back in 1970 to bring 90 galleries and 30 publishers together in Basel, Switzerland to participate in an untested, experimental art fair. And it must have been art that steadily grew that first fair into the single most recognizable art brand in the world today. But was it art that brought Swiss banking giant UBS to partner with Art Basel in 1994? Like Warhol said, money is art.
Money pays the studio rent, buys the mediums, turns on the lights, prints the broadsides, and pays the art movers. Money buys the work, stores the work, exhibits the work, and paves the way for more work, always more, every year, every generation, more voices, more art. Money and art in their myriad forms chose Miami in 2002 as the place to expand the Basel brand.
But art was here before that, much earlier. Art Miami, the mother art fair, the original. It will be in its 28th edition this year. Art Basel Miami is the new kid on the block. So what about Wynwood? Some say art caused it to gentrify. But what does that mean? The gentry – the noble class. Polite, refined – some say for the better, others say for the worse. Was Wynwood a wilderness before? Who remembers? Wynwood was warehouses, loading docks, holes in the walls. Art was there back then, too, scrawled on the walls with Sharpies, painted in the dark of night with spray cans, slapped on light poles with stickers.
The Rubell Collection moved into Wynwood, into the old D.E.A. storage facility, 24 years ago – a generation ago. The neighborhood was affordable then, and desolate. It was also beautifully close to Downtown, to Art Miami, and then to Art Basel. Collectors, curators and art spectators visiting Miami had a reason to venture beyond the beach, beyond Downtown, to this strange, industrial neighborhood. They saw the art, then they strolled around looking for a place to buy coffee. Coffee is art. Strolling is art. Maybe they found a one dollar cortadito and walked the streets with their little cardboard cups talking about art. Then the conversation turned to real estate. Potential. What do you think the rent is here? How much do you think that warehouse would cost? This place is so close to the Art Week epicenter. What else could we do here? A group vision gripped the minds of locals, outsiders, artists, collectors, developers – a folie does milliers.
The Rubells are hardly alone in Wynwood now
Development is art. Wynwood became a buzz word, not just in art circles but in real estate circles. Rents went up, new tenants moved in – cafes and galleries – full of more art to look at, talk about, and buy. Tattoo shops, bars, boutiques, clubs – they all came, even if only to capitalize on the one season a year when foot traffic was reliably strong. Soon enough foot traffic begat foot traffic, money begat money, and art begat art.
The Rubells are hardly alone in Wynwood now. Its warehouses and alleys have become a living museum, contradicting the Italian Futurists and so many others who think museums are burial grounds. Wynwood leaps with life, dancing around countless murals – some commissioned, some spontaneous, some for money, some for free. Art is not a season. Wynwood is now not just a place to go to see one collection, or to attend an Art Week party. It is a place to go every night, every day, all year. But anxiety has gripped the self-stylized pioneers who are now anxious: the proprietors of those cafes, bistros, bars, boutiques and galleries who followed, who made Wynwood the playground of the gentry it is today. They are being priced out. Pioneers get slaughtered, settlers get rich.
Today many of the promoters who used to throw the parties that defined Art Week in Wynwood cannot afford to rent a venue during Art Week in Wynwood. And the city has taken notice. There are more permits required, more paperwork. Too much red tape and too much competition. Competition is art.
The parties are going north to Little Haiti. Cheaper rent. The murals are expanding outward, too. So is the foot traffic. And the $10 lattes. But Wynwood is still the place to be for Art Week. Great parties. Epic shows. Wynwood Art Week, 2017 will feature the first ever DJ set by Björk at Mana Wynwood. Björk has never performed in Florida before. Hyperbolic joy abounds. A writer on Thump, the voice of electronic music on VICE.com, said “You can’t call yourself a noise techno fan until you’ve seen Björk jumping around next to you on a dance floor.” Tickets for the set start at $55. You cannot call yourself a noise techno fan until you have $55 to spend on one night of dancing.
Originalists say nobody goes to Wynwood anymore – it’s too crowded. The “real Miami” they say has moved on. Maybe they are right. Who decides? Wynwood still looks like Wynwood to me. Take a walk down North Miami Avenue. Visit the Diana Lowenstein Gallery for the new exhibition of work by Brazilian artist José Bechara. This is true Wynwood – beautiful, conceptually rigorous artwork in a salvaged industrial space. This is “real Wynwood” and “real Miami.” But so is that brand new high rise next door to Enriqueta’s. And so is that Antidote store on 2nd Avenue and 26th. Their least expensive dress is $150. So go ahead, buy something nice to wear to the Björk set. It is all real. And everything is art.
Paving paradise is art
But if you still find you are curious what Miamians mean when they say, “Wynwood is over,” since you can plainly see Wynwood is just getting started, just rent one of those Citibikes and take a little ride. Start at the Rubell Family Collection at 29th and 1st and ride west. Go about a mile. You will find yourself in the past that Wynwood left behind. This is Allapattah, where the primordial ooze is just beginning to churn. Human nature is at work here. The gentry are coming. Gentrification is art.
Today, Allapattah is a place where “real Miamians” say real Miamians live. You may see them working on the dock at the Allapattah Produce Market, loading trucks with fruits and vegetables. But that market was purchased recently for $16 million by Robert Wennett, the Miami Beach developer who Vanity Fair once compared to a Joni Mitchell song. He paved paradise to put up a parking lot – or more accurately a 375,000-square-foot parking structure that revolutionized the west end Miami shopping district. Paving paradise is art.
And what is bringing so much attention to Allapattah? Why, the answer is art, of course. It turns out that quaint, old 45,000-square-foot former narcotics storage facility in Wynwood has gotten too small. Art Week 2017 may be your last chance to visit it. The new Rubell Family Collection will be in Allapattah, and it will be double the size. It will enable four simultaneous major exhibitions to be on view. More art. And that means more art spectators. They will need somewhere to eat, to drink coffee, and to stroll while they talk about art.
Allapattah today is Wynwood ten years ago. See the walls before the murals come. Talk to the residents, and encourage them to buy now. Look for the “real street art,” the kind made by the people who actually live on those streets. Take pictures. The past lives on borrowed time. Next year, Allapattah may not be a place where you can get that $4.50 pan con lechón, or that $6 bouquet of fresh flowers arranged by loving, knowledgeable hands, or that one dollar cortadito. What will replace these things? Paparazzi? Dance parties? Maybe a deconstructed pan con lechón slider with a shot of small batch rye and a craft beer for approximately the cost of a Björk ticket.
But do not despair. Remember the words of the French Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). He, too, lived in turbulent times. His world was wrecked and rebuilt before his eyes, repeatedly. He said, “My eyes were made to erase all that is ugly.”
So go to Wynwood. Tour the Wynwood Walls. Walk the streets. Listen to the buzz of the crowd. Heed the whisper of art. Go where it tells you to go. Whatever you find there, whether it be the beach, the Design District, a museum, Little Haiti, Allapattah, Coral Gables, open your eyes and look. Erase the ugliness. That is what Art Week is all about. It is about looking deeply and finding a way to love whatever you see. Because Miami is changing. Everything does. Change is art.
“The thickness of the void” brings together 18 new paintings by José Bechara, as well as recent works with glass developed especially for the show. The exhibition is formed by two different series: one where the artist uses techniques involving acrylics and metal oxidations such as steel and copper on used and old tarpaulins; the other is based on the possibilities of painting with glass – it questions themes like the “space in between”, “gravity”, “transparencies”, “fragility”, and “reflection of images around.” Says Bechara, “I prefer to watch the geometry not as an affirmative territory but as something fragile, that needs to make big efforts to emerge, like all of us”.
Juliana Mieth, Office manager, Diana Lowenstein Gallery.
“The thickness of the void” is on view through 31 January 2018 at Diana Lowenstein Gallery. 2043 N. Miami Avenue, Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.