Art Basel Miami Beach and The Wynwood Walls

Following our recent post about censorship and the commercial use of graffiti and street art (read) and our urban art videos series (view), we want to discuss about the famous Art Basel Miami Beach and The Wynwood Walls, their impact on the local community and on the international art scene. As we have not visited Miami, we base the article on our research in the past weeks, gathering information from various sources to better understand both sides of the story – the rising art opportunities, as well as the effects of business presence and pressure there. The post ends with no conclusions, as we are certain that we offer enough information and links to sources where readers can continue their own research and find their own answers leading to the big picture of Miami, not just its fragmented views.


Art Basel Miami Beach 2014

At the end of 2014, Art Basel Miami Beach was opening its doors to host new art collections and performances, fairs and parties that seem to grow in numbers each year: “The 2014 edition is no different, with a total of 267 galleries from 31 countries across North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa set to descend on the main fair alone” (Artnet). With such a varied display, $3 billion worth of art is being offered for sale this year, according to the event’s organizers. The seemingly countless other satellite fairs must add considerably to that number, making the art fair a major economic event” (Hyperallergic).

Visiting Art Basel, DRAW A LINE wrote on their blog: “Hundreds of world-class artworks were put on display by the 250 top notch galleries from around the world. As expected the quality of the works and the artists was absolutely outstanding. A Warhol here, a Richter there – everything you can dream of, assembled in an exhibition hall packed with collectors, their pockets full of money, ready to spend, and hundreds of art dealers ready to sell. While wandering through the show it was a pleasure to listen to discussions, to overhear sales conversations and to watch the rich spend tremendous amounts of money. All in all, it was very inspiring to see what was happening, but in the end Art Basel Miami Beach seems to be reserved for the super-rich buyers and has nothing to do with the young rising art scene.

Os Gêmeos - Untitled, Lehmann Maupin Gallery

Os Gêmeos – Untitled, Lehmann Maupin Gallery / Photo source: DRAW A LINE

Indeed, there were some great shows on view. You can find below some of our favorite artworks.

Daniel Arsham - Welcome to the Future

Daniel Arsham - Welcome to the Future

Daniel Arsham – ‘Welcome to the Future’, Locust Projects / Photo source: Junkculture

Gehard Demetz, Jack Shainman

Gehard Demetz @ Jack Shainman Gallery / Photo source: Artnet

Nyoman Masriadi - Selfie, Paul Kasmin

Nyoman Masriadi – ‘Selfie’, Paul Kasmin Gallery / Photo source: Artnet

Pryce Lee

Pryce Lee Untitled / Photo source: Arrested Motion

Cleon Peterson, Pulse Miami

Cleon Peterson, Pulse Miami / Photo source: Juxtapoz

Swoon, SCOPE Miami

Swoon, SCOPE Miami / Photo source: Hi-Fructose

Johnson Tsang at Galleri Oxholm

Johnson Tsang at Galleri OxholmSCOPE Miami / Photo source: Hi-Fructose

Celebrity Alert

However, next to such artists you could also meet Miley Cyrus, “twerker extraordinaire”, as Artnet calls her: “Guests can expect an array of provocatively employed props, outlandish costumes, Cyrus’s salaciously-wagging tongue, and a bevy of hits off the singer’s Bangerz album.”

Meanwhile, Usher was charging his phone in a vagina: “Usher allegedly paid the bargain price of $20 and stuck his phone into the battery pack, nestled inside Marquis’ person for a whopping 10 minutes. The creative interaction explored many pressing contemporary topics, it’s true. How a woman is still objectified for entertainment even in the supposedly progressive world of art. How celebrity and nudity still dominate the headlines of an art-centric event – we know, this headline included. How artworks meant to call the unsavory aspects of culture into question often end up affirming them.” (Huffington Post)

Lady Gaga posed as the figure in Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat (1793) – details on Artnet, Outkast’s André 3000 holding speeches about art (video) – reminds us of Snoop Dogg’s revelation in painting (remember this video? a collaboration with Happy Socks – crazy, right?), and among distinguished guests – DJ Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian breaking Miami, as if breaking the internet was not enough (see some celebrity art-related party photos here). Great moment for pictures and art selfies, which have become a trend since Jay Z and Beyoncé joined the art coolness.

The Guardian brings into discussion the Miami Effect, as gallery owner and art lecturer Fred Snitzer explains: “Miami is a magnet for slick, sleazy stuff (…). He thinks it better to be exposed to the reality of the market than live in an insulated fantasy. Artists can’t afford to be naive. If a serious artist is negatively impacted by luxury or money, then they weren’t very good in the first place.”

Protests, Arrests and Police Brutality 

While visitors were busy rushing to buy their favorite artworks – here are some of the overheard talks: “Is he as cute as his art?” (at the NADA Miami 2014 art fair) or “I can’t remember if I wanted the sculpture or the painting.” (at Pulse Miami 2014 art fair) – protests against police brutality were held during Art Basel. According to Hyperallergic: “Inspired by the waves of momentum rolling through the country in the wake of grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in St. Louis and Staten Island, the #Ferguson2Miami vigil and protest connected the dots between Mike Brown and Eric Garner, whose deaths have made national headlines more recently, and Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, who was killed by police in Miami more than a year ago. In August 2013, officers caught Hernandez, an 18-year-old graffiti writer, tagging a McDonalds restaurant. They proceeded to chase and then taser him, causing his death. Investigations and lawsuits are under way, but to date there’s been no trial or legal resolution.”

“Everybody comes to town thinking it’s business as usual, and it’s not business as usual. People are getting killed in Miami, and no one thinks it’s happening here. Everything’s getting covered under the rug,” said Ruth Jean Noel, an organizer of the event who works with the grassroots Power U Center for Social Change (Hyperallergic).

Also in December 2014: “New York performer Kalan Sherrard was arrested at the Miami Beach Convention Center last Sunday while, according to the police, participating in a demonstration against the wealthy that was taking place at the gates of Art Basel in Miami Beach” (full story on Artnet).

Although Miley Cyrus can easily be tagged as an artist, not any type of art is encouraged in Miami, and can even be severely punished, as in the case of young Miami graffiti artist Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez, known as DEMZ: “Rodriguez, 21, was spotted by police gang unit members as he was tagging a privately owned building near Northwest Fifth Avenue and 24th Street about 2 a.m., police said. When officers began chasing him, Rodriguez fled. He turned a street corner, then ducked between two cars to try to get rid of his spray paint can, police said. As Miami police Detective Michael Cadavid turned the corner, police said, Rodriguez jumped out from between the cars and was struck by the detective’s vehicle” (Miami Herald). The artist suffered a brain injury and shortly died (read police statements on Hyperallergic). Ironic and deeply unsettling, isn’t it? To die in such conditions and context in a place so heavily promoted as a graffiti/ street art heaven. And worse, as seen above, he was not the only case.


The Wynwood Walls

Cleon Peterson and Shepard Fairey

Cleon Peterson and Shepard Fairey, 2014 / Photo source: Arrested Motion

According to the Wynwood Miami website, The Wynwood Arts District is home to over 70 Art Galleries, Retail Stores, Antique Shops, Eclectic Bars, and one of the largest open-air street art installations in the world: “The Wynwood Arts District Association has been legally operating since 2009 for the well-being and improvement of the Wynwood Arts District, one of the largest and most prominent creative communities in the United States. Taking over what used to be the warehouse and manufacturing district of Greater Miami, developers have rehabilitated neglected warehouses, shuttered factories, and other unused buildings, transforming them into the numerous art complexes, galleries, performing art spaces, restaurants, cafes, and other creative businesses that are seen here today.”

The Wynwood Walls was an initiative of Tony Goldman (learn more about the Goldman family) and Jeffrey Deitch.

But according to Culture Designers, the first to envision an outdoor street art museum were Books Bischof, Typoe, and Cristina González, “a group of local artists, who, after discovering the potential of the downtrodden areas of the Design District and Wynwood back in 2005, when they used to drive around in Book’s mom’s van, decided to become Primary Flight, a contemporary curatorial collective that would use the streets of Miami as their playground. In 2007, they invited 35 artists to paint on strategically located walls around those areas. In 2009, the number of invited artists had increased to 150.”

“In our hearts, we believed we were surrounding ourselves with family and over time we realized what we were doing was surrounding ourselves with a lot of people who were only there as long as they were provided with opportunity. It quickly became about them and not about the community we were trying to build. (…) Primary Flight reached a point where it was forced to be injected with unnecessary sponsorship hormones to compete with programs in the city that were copying on our concept. This basically killed the organic growth of Primary Flight as a public arts program, the path we took, in an effort to survive, set the project backwards in one sense and forward in another. A blessing in disguise you could say. The Wynwood Arts District had begun to appropriate our culture for it’s identity, everyone fighting over walls. It wasn’t what we had envisioned for that district so we decided to evolve and focus on our greater passion, contemporary art”. (full story and the interview with Books on Culture Designers)

Sharing her past and present experiences in Wynwood and referring to the gentrification process happening there in an article on Vandalog, Monica Campana, Living Walls Co-Founder and Executive Director, recommends the ‘Right to Wynwood’ documentary of Producer and Director Camila Álvarez:


The RAW Project

In 2014, however, Wynwood Arts District Association in partnership with launched the project RAW (Re-imagining the Arts in Wynwood) aiming to raise money with the help of invited artists in order to support the local José De Diego Middle School, where over 600 students do not benefit of an arts program, as no funds seemed to be available for this. As Huffington Post puts it: “Imagine you’re a student at JDD Middle; you’re surrounded by warehouses and walls painted in the most vivid ways imaginable, constructed by the world’s most treasured and talented artists; your schoolyard is literally in the world’s largest outdoor museum yet you can’t learn how to paint or draw in school. Talk about being on the outside looking in. Talk about the gentrification of the future. It’s not acceptable. It’s a crime that an art neighborhood has public schools without art departments.

What needs remembering, almost constantly, is that the residents of Wynwood and its surrounding neighborhoods – Edgewater, Allapattah, Brownsville, Overtown – are poor minorities. Eighty-nine percent of students at JDD Middle are eligible for free meals. In 2014, a family of two needs to make an annual income below $20,449 to be eligible for free meals. Fifty-three percent are Hispanic, and 46 percent are black; these students and their families need to feel included in their own neighborhood. They need to be a part of what’s going on and they need access to an education.”

MTO - The Son: No Art For Poor Kids, Wynwood, Miami. December 2014 (photo © MTO) - via Brooklyn Street Art

MTO – ‘The Son: No Art For Poor Kids’, Wynwood, Miami. December 2014 (photo © MTO) – via Brooklyn Street Art

MTO - The Father: La Muerte Del Barrio, Wynwood, Miami. December 2014. (photo © MTO) - via Brooklyn Street Art

MTO – ‘The Father: La Muerte Del Barrio’, Wynwood, Miami. December 2014. (photo © MTO) – via Brooklyn Street Art

Read more about this piece on the artist’s Facebook page.

MTO - The Mother: Selfie… Oh Wynwood Selfie, Wynwood, Miami. December 2014. (photo © MTO) - via Brooklyn Street Art

MTO – ‘The Mother: Selfie… Oh Wynwood Selfie’, Wynwood, Miami. December 2014. (photo © MTO) – via Brooklyn Street Art

Find out more about MTO’s project ‘The Wynwood Family (2014)’ on Brooklyn Street Art.

Axel Void - Life

Axel Void – ‘Life’ / Photo © Axel Void

“The mural was made as part of the Raw Project in the José De Diego Middle School in Miami, Florida. This project invited many artists in order to extend the arts program at the school. The school is located in the neighborhood of Wynwood, a gentrified area where street art and the fashion industry have built a frivolous trend with the reputation of having the best murals in the world, but has rather become a circus in the pursuit of fame.”

Franco Fasoli - JAZ, Miami 2014

Franco Fasoli - JAZ, Miami 2014

Franco Fasoli – JAZ / Photos via Street Art News

Pastel + JUFE, Miami, USA

Pastel and JUFE / Photo © Pastel

Pixel Pancho

Pixel Pancho / Photo source: Hi-Fructose

The Fordistas program was another project focused on the community, according to their statement, supported by South Florida Ford company.

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Also read about the censorship and commercial use of graffiti and street art.

View our urban art videos series and read our interviews with Franco Fasoli – JAZ, Pastel, Cleon Peterson.