Finally, we managed to park in a park at a height that we abandoned in a hurry, stimulated by the return to the summer caress. In mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere, a gentle but generous sun continued to catch the Florida and Wynwood neighborhood we were looking for.
The surrounding streets of Edgewater, scoured in Anglo-Saxon fashion, exhibit a fascinating work-recreational atmosphere, walked by comfortable executives in shirt-short uniforms crossing with cyclists, skaters and many customers from nearby gyms that we identify by the Lycras, breathable t-shirts and sneakers, all from the best brands and the latest generation.
From its middle class and upwards, Miami is not short of money for a long time. The Bentleys, Mustangs, BMW Z3, Porsche Cayennes and the like that circulate there indicate that this prosperity is about to last.
It is from that stronghold on the edge of the Caribbean Sea and north of Downtown Miami that we point to Wynwood, to the west. Over the years, Wynwood has subdivided. It has an Art District that occupies several axes and a Fashion District concentrated along West 5th Avenue.
The Humble Origins of the Wynwood Neighborhood
From 1950 onwards, the Wynwood neighborhood was known as “El Barrio” or “Little San Juan”. It was just one of so many housing nuclei generated by immigrants with the same geographic and ethnic origin that made up Miami. Like “El Barrio”, “Little Haiti” coexisted, “Little Havana”, “Little Jamaica”, “Little Brazil” and even “Little Moscow”, among others.
The new Puerto Rican scene of “Little San Juan” preceded the much more famous today “Little Havana” in nearly ten years. After the end of World War II, former Anglo-Saxon residents of the working middle class flocked to surrounding neighborhoods where they could live in better conditions.
Puerto Ricans occupied their space but benefited neither from previous factory jobs nor from collateral advantages. Even so, little by little, there proliferated restaurants, markets, shops and other businesses owned by the residents themselves.
Over time, the Wynwood neighborhood diversified. It welcomed blacks of different origins, Cubans, Haitians, Colombians, Dominicans. In the late 70s, it was no longer “Little San Juan”. Neither harmonious nor prosperous. He had regressed to a low-class multiethnic Wynwood. Half of its nearly 20.000 inhabitants remained unemployed.
Drug trafficking has spread like an epidemic. Insecurity and crime have undermined well-being, as it does in Miami's most deprived areas.
From the 70s until 1987, little happened in Wynwood worth noting except that a large bread factory that was there, no one quite knew why its building vacated. By that time, a faction of one such South Florida Art Center was leaving Coconut Grove due to rising rents.
The Pioneer Art Building
Some of its artists formed a non-profit organization and bought it. In 1987, they opened it for new purposes. Named Bakehouse, it had almost 9.000 m2. It was Florida's largest art workspace. Today, the Bakehouse Art Complex remains operational in the same old factory that fostered the incredible creative movement that would come to be formed.
From so much walking, we see the absolute contrast of the depressed 70s and 80s of the Wynwood neighborhood. In the heart of the Miami Design District, the Palm Court was built with the lightness and subtlety of bluish acrylic that combines with the green of fifty palm trees of different species.
The space's communication agency proudly communicates that among them “the spinosa coccothrinax and heterospathe elata around an iconic geodesic cathedral designed by renowned architect and inventor, Buckminster Fuller.”
Overshadowed by so much pomp, we have one thing for sure: apart from the palm trees with thin trunks and elegant foliage, that inner square was lined with works of art, installations and, of course, some of the most expensive stores on the planet. We leave it only and only with visual and photographic memories.
Wynwood Walls: The Creative Core of the District
When we walk down a street outside, heading into Wynwood's graffiti core, we are pretty sure that it is former Italian football player Gianluca Vialli who is sitting reading a catalog inside a furniture workshop. We continue with this conviction.
Studio after studio, hipster den after hipster den, we arrive at the Wynwood Walls portico and the most popular spot in the Wynwood neighborhood. After the initial stimulus of the Bakehouse, it was the sprays of street artists eager to show off their talent that lent more color to the neighborhood.
For decades, illegal and even persecuted, its action ended up being sacralized. The Wynwood Walls are the temple that thousands of art followers visit, some from the surrounding area, others, like us, from across the ocean and the world.
Miami seems to recognize the pivotal role of one man in particular in transforming the Wynwood neighborhood overnight. Tony Goldman was a multi-million dollar real estate investor who had been behind the recovery of SoHo and Miami's South Beach.
Tony Goldman: The Wynwood Mentor and Investor
Now, when it came to neighborhoods, Goldman always had the gift of seeing gold where others could only find garbage. With Wynwood, history repeated itself. The investor and two of his children began buying parts of Wynwood's warehouse district.
Instead of tearing down the old structures, they gave them new life with wise restorations of the properties and, at the same time, in art that valued them. In 2009, they opened an open-air gallery that allowed graffiti artists and other artists to display their paintings on murals.
They made the opening of this gallery, Wynwood Walls, coincide with the renowned Art Basel of Miami. This option gave the new gallery an enormous media coverage.
Tony Goldman's Urbanizing Determination
Enthusiastic, Tony Goldman projected much more for his then-favorite neighborhood of Miami. In his view, every Wynwood should be promoted to an exhibition of urban street art. Reality exceeded expectations even in terms of real estate. From a cemetery to abandoned warehouses and factories, Wynwood now has some of Florida's most valuable square feet.
It all started, however, in the open air, on the Walls. With the sun almost out of its nominative portico, we hurried inside.
A path of flagstones leads us through a lawn with a synthetic shine, between the successive garish, imaginative, almost always surreal murals that make up the gallery.
Before he died in 2012, at 68 years old, the Walls mentor brought together renowned or at least promising names from the world panorama of urban art: the Japanese Aiko, the Chilean Inti, Avaf, PHASE 2, the Brazilian Gémeos, an armada of New Yorkers, especially from Brooklyn, and Portuguese Alexandre Farto, better known as Vhils, but so many others.
Works for Every Taste, including by Vhils
Between the Walls, far from intellectualoid, the atmosphere is one of Sunday fun. Groups of friends, families and lovers start by contemplating the graffiti and paintings by these street artists with some thought and intellectual debate. This approach lasts what it lasts. In a flash, it is replaced by countless selfies or group photos taken with the works in the background.
Much less polychromatic and eccentric than the rest, Vhils' work can be observed less, but it seems to deserve a more curious interest from those who confront it. True to his line, instead of just graffiti or painting – as happens with most of the authors of the works around him – Vhils paints his mural.
Then he digs it out, bleaches it with acids, drills it with small pneumatic hammers. Work the details with hammer, chisels and the like, of different dimensions. And as Vhils himself sums up in his gallery profile: “he values ordinary people in icons, many of his images are based on photos of people he takes from magazines, from Sebastião Salgado's work, or from his own camera.”
Other works, evident in the murals, doors and gardens of Wynwood Walls, evoke different sensations. Logan Hicks' panoramic mural transports us to an urban coolness worthy of a contemporary Blade Runner, or some mysterious pre-dawn Brooklyn. The alleged minds of the “working children” of the Chilean Inti seem to penetrate the minds of those who focus on them.
Even the bars and restaurants that serve the Walls – notably the Wynwood Restaurant and Bar – are decorated with works of unbelievable creativity. The logo and interior walls of this pinecone landing are by Shepard Fairey, immortalized by his reddish-blue “Hope” poster that displays the face of Barak Obama.
The Scanned and Graffiti Streets Around
We leave the walled interior of Wynwood Walls, through a kind of tunnel painted green, with a composition of old wall fans and a long wooden bench. In it, under the fans, rest and chatter two old men in hats that so much modernity seems to have exhausted.
We left for NW 26th Street and immediately gave priority to a group of skaters more hip than the neighborhood itself. We crossed the street. On the other side, we come across a mural by the multifaceted (actress, painter, model, author) Canadian Elisabetta Fantone.
In it, Andy Warhol appears as Andrew Warhola, a prisoner for crimes against art. Wearing an orange uniform, Warhol is forced to hold a sign of his offense describing this. We had fun photographing what used to be one of the most daring walls in the neighbourhood.
Davel and the Privilege to Live in Wynwood
And to add ourselves to the composition of the most comical forms possible. So, a graffiti artist who colored the adjoining wall takes advantage of the pretext and starts a conversation. Despite looking like a kid on a BMX bike, Davel was already in his thirties. We were talking for a good twenty minutes.
It was more than enough for us to realize how much he had benefited from the tree of Wynwood but, at the same time, contributed to it. “I've lived in this area since shortly after I was born. Before, walking these same streets at night was an adventure.
It is now one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Miami. It's amazing what power art can have, isn't it? And, by the way, how about my work? Like?" We step back so that we can interpret it and brag about the gaudy eccentricity of its completely crazy abstraction.
We exchange contacts. We also promised that we would get a glimpse of more of your talent online. Sunset was already overshadowing Wynwood's art and the day in general. It was time to resort to the festive reception of the bars inside the Walls.
THIS ARTICLE WAS CREATED WITH THE SUPPORT OF TAP – flytap.pt
TAP has daily flights from Lisbon to Miami, departing at 10:50 am and arriving in Miami at 15:15