It’s not my grandparents’ Florida. This was the thought that kept circling my head as I made my way down NW 2nd Avenue in the newly reclaimed arts district of Wynwood in Miami. A world away from the retirement communities in Boca Raton that I grew up associating with Florida, Wynwood looks like a scene out of downtown LA or Brooklyn. Warehouses and shuttered factories have been converted into trendy galleries, art venues, boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. The Wynwood Arts District Association has done a phenomenal job at converting this once shabby neighborhood into a hip destination, but credit should also be given to Art Basel for arousing the interest of this creative movement.
The Wynwood Walls was the first major art project to transform the neighborhood. Tony Goldman, the late real estate developer and arts visionary, brought some of the world’s greatest street artists to his complex between 25th and 26th streets where the facades of six buildings were waiting to be covered in graffiti and murals. Today, the Wynwood Walls stand at the center of all the action and are a great place to start your exploration of the area, even before visiting the 70+ galleries that line 2nd Avenue and the side streets from NW 20th to 29th.
I had three jaw-dropping experiences while perusing the streets of Wynwood. The first was at the Robert Fontaine Gallery, right on 2nd between NW 23rd and 24th Streets, where the group I was with was shown an exclusive preview of works by Canadian/British artist Peter Combe. Combe utilizes paint swatches to create three-dimensional canvases that subtly transform as you shift your vantage point. There were four works in total, three of strikingly handsome men and one with big block text that read “PALM BEACH BITCH”. There is one word that properly describes these pieces – fabulous.
The next experience began the second I walked into the Jan Kath rug gallery on NW 23rd Street. Hanging on the walls were sumptuous rugs from the German designer’s most recent “Erased Heritage” collection, in which he pays homage to the traditional weaves of Egypt, Iran, and Turkey. The designs are produced in original colors and then combined with Kath’s signature alienation effect to create an old-meets-new concept. The result – striking works of woven art. There was one piece that I immediately fell in love with. It featured a traditional wool Persian serapi design with a smattering of electric blue silk. If I had $25,000 at my disposal, that rug would be on my living room floor.
The third experience came as I entered BIG Images Gallery at the corner of NW 23rd Street and NW 1st Place, where huge limited-edition Terry O’Neill photographs were hanging in what was a very unassuming space. Some of his greatest shots were on display – Elizabeth Taylor & David Bowie (Liz sharing a cigarette with the singer/songwriter); Oscar Ennui (Faye Dunnaway having breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel the morning after she won the Oscar); Brigitte Bardot in Spain (the French sex symbol smoking a stogie with her hair swept across her face); Elton John at Dodger Stadium (Elton decked out in a glittery Dodger uniform as he swings to a packed stadium while standing on his piano). It’s a rare experience to find yourself surrounded by life-size iconic O’Neills; needless to say, it was a moment I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
After two hours in Wynwood, we had to depart to meet some friends for dinner across the intracoastal at Joe’s Stone Crab (I know what you’re thinking…we’re back to my grandparents’ Florida). Had those plump, meaty stone crab claws not been calling my name, I could’ve stayed in Wynwood for hours, bopping in and out of more galleries and delighting in this newly discovered corner of the Sunshine State.
(Last visited in January, 2015)