I stumble upon a cool group of cyclists while buying some freshly smoked "street meat" in Wynwood during this year's Art Basel in front of the new Panther Coffee shop on NW 2nd Avenue. They chat me up and offer a bike tour of the Wynwood outdoor art murals. I say "hell yeah" and sign up for tomorrow's ride.
This nowhere has become somewhere overnight thanks to it's visionary artists and developers like David Lombardi of Wynwood lofts, Cafeina, Panther Coffee house and of course the man with the Midas touch, Tony Goldman, proprietor of Joey's Cafe' and the sexy, new Wynwood Kitchen. I remember Tony when he first laid eyes on South Beach back in 1988 and I had just rented a studio apartment in his building on 8th and Ocean drive overlooking the beach for only $350-. Tony was finishing his first remodel of an art deco hotel on South Beach. It was the Park Central and it stood out like a diamond surrounded by charcoal. It was one of the first hotels to be painted with the colorful pastel palette. In those days, the buildings were all depressing, earthy browns and beiges with all of the art deco lines lost from lack of maintenance and color to highlight their beauty. His friend he brought down from New York to manage my the apartment building where I lived was Mark Soyka who was planning to manage a little cafe' named News Cafe'. The rest, as you know is history and Tony's vision was the seed that germinated into the hedonistic, global mecca that is South Beach today.
Flash forward to 2010, Tony's golden fingers are spreading their fairy dust over Wynwood and it is a wonderful transformation to see a nuclear holocaust, concrete jungle burst into colors and bloom galleries on every corner. He commissioned top name artists for the Wynwood Walls project. Kenny Scharf, Shepard Fairy who did the Obama campaign poster and Jeff Soto to name a few, all came together to transform bare concrete walls into individual dimensional doorways into each of their minds. A virtual Alice in Wonderland for art lovers. This project has inspired other wall commissions all over Wynwood from companies like Levi's, Primary Flight, and Sharpie and the list keeps growing. Wynwood's murals are currently one of the largest mural installations in the world featuring over 250 artists from around the globe. Primary flight is the main promoter of "legal street art" in Miami and has helped to bring other corporate sponsors.
I awake to another perfectly blue, crystal clear winter day in Miami and I gear up on my beach cruiser with my 10 year old nephew and ride over to Cafeina to meet the bikers for our tour. My nephew is amp'ed to see all the artists on scissor lifts painting murals live in Cafeina lounge's side parking lot. It was like walking into an open air museum, the way art should be enjoyed in the fresh air, spotlighted by the sun.
We see so many bad ass works of art that I piss off my biker brothers for falling too far behind to take pictures. We turn the corner into what looks like an abandoned warehouse complex that is a shell of a building littered with hundreds of graffitti artists and their girlfriends and baby future graffitti artists. There were guys hanging from steel roof beams on ladders painting over every square inch of bare concrete. It was a massive beehive with each worker bee, working their magic in a peaceful synchronicity. No gang violence or cops here just pure street art. A lot of the business owners are more than happy to have their walls painted so the stigma of illegal tagging of walls isn't an issue here.
Our tour guide goes on to explain a lot of the art and tells us of my favorite artist Retna who uses his own form of hieroglyphics in his murals which only he can decipher. Another story tells of a legendary pioneering graffitti artist named Ynot that passed away but is not forgotten. Artists in the area tag walls with his logo all over Wynwood to keep his memory alive.
The sad but poetic truth is that these murals are just as mortal as the humans that paint them. They will either be painted over quickly or be destroyed by the elements over time. Like a sand castle competition, the only way to capture this fleeting beauty is to take a picture before it's gone. One of the murals I photographed was already painted over by a buzzkill landlord 2 days later.
All in all, this was one of the most refreshing and inspirational things I did during this culture bomb they call Art Basel this year and hope I get to do it again in 2011. It adds to the list of the "wonderful things" that make My-Ami, the real Miami; home for me. Let's just hope and pray that neither Pottery Barn nor Romero Britto set their sights on Wynwood and it remains the edgy and inspirational place it is today.
Learn more about the Miami graffitti movement here.
*Hot Miami tip- Check out La Guarderia produce market on 34th street and NW 2nd avenue and grab oodles of fresh produce and fruit for a fraction of what it would cost at your local Publix. It's totally worth the trek.
A great short film on the origins of Miami's Art Basel and it's arts community, highlighting some of it's most prominent pioneers and shapers of our magic city, recently premiered at Wynwood's only independent film house, O Cinema.