Art Basel/Art Week Miami 2017

Art Basel/Art Week Miami 2017

As another December dawned on South Florida for seven days of curated art mega-fairs, posh private parties, and loads of unavoidable traffic throughout the city, Art Week Miami welcomed over 20,000 visitors to take in the latest in the contemporary art world. Art Basel, the Miami Beach edition, serves as the host to over one hundred blue-chip international galleries in the city’s convention center with satellite fairs and pop-up art spaces filling every empty space from Wynwood to South Beach. 

While Basel and mainstays like Scope and Untitled present work from the bustling careers of the latest who’s who in the latest ArtForum, getting in the venues can be a costly affair with prices for general admission costing between $20-$50. Many visitors, first-timers, and veterans alike dodge the ritz of South Beach for the more urban Wynwood where there has been a growing open-air street art scene. A neighborhood morphed into a more inclusive public museum showcasing usually larger-scale public works by the same artists you would find inside of the tents. 

Wynwood could be seen as a street art version of the popular app Pokemon Go, where you search out hotspot locations to gather points and find and capture new characters. Visitors employ the same strategy frequenting the social accounts of their favorite artists hoping to find them working or hanging around in the area, capturing selfies, and taking home stickers and in some cases original pieces of art. 

A major visitor hotspot is always Wynwood Walls, a curated collection of large murals founded by Goldman Global Arts housing public work by artists such as Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, and Retna. Opening this year with 12 new installations to their interior enclosure project, Wynwood Walls collaborated with artists to express their theme “humanKind” to “to infuse compassion, humanity, and empathy in today’s society.” With artists like Joe Iurato, Lady Pink, Tristan Eaton, and Risk Rock among others, Wynwood Walls looked to push forward the mission that together we can create change. Among the changes to Wynwood Walls was the addition of public sculpture to the courtyard programming which presented a 3D experience for visitors as they observe the work. Goldman Arts Gallery also featured physical work from the participating artists as well at the VIP opening allowing the guests a chance to take home a piece of the experience.

Wynwood Walls, Kobra, 2017. Photo By Badir McCleary
Wynwood Sculpture, 2017. Photo By Badir McCleary
Wynwood Walls, Vhils, 2017. Photo By Badir McCleary

As I continued my journey around Wynwood I was happy that I was able to get a few photos before vandals started to make themselves known with tags and wheatpastes sprawled across what used to be visually pleasing street work. The heavy presence of police thwarted many attempts at “getting up” allowing creators to feel comfortable about their works surviving the weekend but not everyone was lucky. There are still a few heavy hitters still riding high on the main strip of NW 2nd Ave like Retna’s massive seven-story mural on the Wynwood Arts Complex (2011), Li Hill and James Bullough’s mind-bending creations (2016), and Kobra’s “Stop Wars” mural (2015) featuring Star Wars character Yoda holding a stop sign bearing the message. 

One change that I instantly noticed was that an anti-Trump wall done in 2016 by the Bushwick Collective that featured President Trump as the Joker was changed to a huge gorilla with a Kangol hat shushing the statue of liberty. According to an article by the Miami New Times,  the collective insisted that the mural had to be changed or covered and a group of artists lead by Miami-based creator Ruben Ubiera took on the task. In my opinion, it looks a lot more visually impressive with the bright blue of the gorilla’s custom Adidas sweatsuit jacket covering a great deal of the work and the bright white of his Kangol helps to illuminate the neon green in his glasses. 

I was able to catch some of the progress of “Big Walls, Big Dreams” a collection of walls and spaces featuring over forty murals and productions by artists across the globe. Organized by Houston-based team UPArtStudio and working with an array of creators like Chicago-based artist J.C. Rivera and Pez out of Barcelona, they were able to make a huge impact on this year’s transformation of the neighborhood spearheaded by a commissioned project by the city’s Mayor, Philip Levine, renovating the building that will house his headquarters for his campaign for governor of Florida. The murals featured a diverse selection of Americana presenting a mixture of civil rights leaders, Presidents, and Military soldiers alongside quotes of inspiration and progress. In collaboration with Jay Mack Muzik, Epson, and TruClear Global, one of the murals on the property was animated with project mapping, which turns objects into a surface to project video creating a digital experience.

A huge loss for the Wynwood street art scene was the relocation of the Juxtapoz Clubhouse to Downtown Miami. Teaming this year with Adidas at the Historic Walgreens Building on Flagler, Juxtapoz exhibited favorites like Ron English and Conor Harrington alongside Adidas’ “Showcase” merging skate culture with some of the international street and graffiti artists that Adidas has worked with on past campaigns. In the closest thing that could resemble a street-art-themed fair the clubhouse also featured booths by galleries and partners whose programming aligns with the theme of this year’s show. Jonathan Levine Projects, Station 16 Gallery and Thinkspace Gallery from Los Angeles were among the participants to have booths in the clubhouse. Thinkspace had work by Jaune who has been a favorite as of late with his construction worker wood mini-sculptures and Jonathan Levine Projects presented a group show of artists from their roster with hyperrealist works by Diana Carolina Lopez and dazzling laser-cut works by Julia Ibbini.

I think the walls, exhibits, and the events of Wynwood were really exciting this year with a few new artists breaking through the cracks with tags and pieces in between all the commissioned street work. With the neighborhood growing, new buildings are popping up every year ready to paint, and real estate owners willing to cash in on the redesign. More opportunities will always lead to the discovery of new talent and the continued growth will allow Wynwood to cement itself as the largest open-air street art scene in the world.

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