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RSW Living Magazine

Artsy and Urban - Wrap a weekend around a visit to Wynwood, Miami’s over-the-top, art-centric hood

Sep 29, 2015 08:49AM ● By Kevin

Welcome to the world of Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, Retna and Miss Van. These are artists who don’t need a gallery or a frame to display their art when the exterior wall of a warehouse or the door of a garage will do. They are all international heavyweights in the graffiti genre, and their signature street art is what makes Miami’s Wynwood Arts District one of the most exciting urban art scenes in the world.

A visit to this eccentric neighborhood, where high-end galleries meet underground-style bars, is an introduction into another world where thinking outside the box is the norm.

Once a thriving warehouse district, the blighted area north of downtown Miami was resuscitated by graffiti artists commissioned in 2009 by the late urban developer Tony Goldman. (He was a catalyst in creating New York City’s SoHo.) Today few buildings are not covered with googly-eyed caricatures or oddly shaped letters from an unfamiliar alphabet or just wild freestyle graffiti.

The centerpiece of the area is the Wynwood Walls, an art park of sorts on NW 2nd Avenue, with a lawn and open space for walking and viewing 24 huge walls and 10 doors before popping into the Peter Tunney Experience gallery.

3_Partne_r-Toolkit-Wynwood-Friends-Socializing-DrinkingAshley Turchin, who runs the gallery, knows the art here well. “These are the best artists in the world. I’ve watched the evolution of the walls and how Tony Goldman’s daughter Jessica brought in women artists,” she says, as she points out the “Poupes,” childlike women equally angelic and devilish, that French artist Miss Van (Vanessa Alice Bensimon) has painted on her wall.

All the artists “own” their walls and come regularly to touch up or change the artwork—sometimes just parts of it, sometimes the entire wall.

When you first enter the Wynwood Walls, you’re greeted by pop artist Kenny Scharf’s cartoonlike figures with mischievous grins and bulging eyes in bright yellows, pinks and aquas. Scharf uses spray paint and is known to work at incredible speed, as if he’s back in the ’70s painting the streets of New York City before it was en vogue.

One of the newest and most detailed murals is Octophant by Puerto Rican muralist Alexis Diaz. He spent days working with tiny brushes, filling his wall with millions of fine lines to create an elephant whose trunk resembles an octopus. Then there is Logan Hicks’ stenciled New York City street scene. “If you walk past this wall, the street moves with you,” Turchin points out.

2_Partner-Toolkit-Wynwood-Bar-BartenderAdjacent to the walls is the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, where Shepard Fairey’s pasted murals can be found on the wall facing the patio and inside behind the bar. Dominated by red and gold, his major mural pays homage to Tony Goldman, who is portrayed with open arms welcoming visitors. A lunch of small plates from grilled pork belly on skewers and bacon-wrapped medjool dates to ropa vieja empanadas is reason enough to stop at the restaurant.

After lunch explore the galleries where Latin artists have a strong presence. At the Alejandra von Hartz Gallery, Cuban artist Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova’s installation of geometric construction uses typical domestic architectural arrangements. Argentine artist Tomas Espina’s series of war paintings are part of the Pan American Art Projects. “He makes holes in the canvas and creates texture with gunpowder,” explains curator Irina Leyva-Perez. A few blocks down, Art Bastion features science art by Darya Warner. The Belarus artist’s installation includes light bulbs that house bioluminescent algae.

Hotels haven’t sprung up yet in Wynwood, so your best bet is to stay at the new Yve Hotel in downtown Miami across from Bayfront Park. Its central location makes it easy to get to Wynwood by hired car, and the concierge can set you up with Uber, the car-for-hire app that allows you to arrange pickup through your smartphone.

The boutique hotel with its hip modern décor has a totally Miami vibe. Rooms are drenched in white, the thick mattresses promise a good night’s sleep, and you’ll wake up with a sunrise view of the Port of Miami and Biscayne Bay. You can even grab an Yve yoga mat and join the locals for a free class in the park on Saturday morning.

The hotel’s Biscayne Tavern adds a nice contrast to the hotel’s contemporary look with warm earthy tones, natural wood tables and blackboards with sayings like “I only drink beer on days that end in Y” that are meant to encourage guests to sample the craft beers on tap, which pair nicely with the churrasco steak.

And if you just can’t visit Miami without doing South Beach, the hotel partners with Mansion, the mother of all nightclubs, so getting past the velvet ropes won’t be a hassle.

Written by contributor Patricia Letakis, who has written extensively about Florida for the past 20 years.

If You Go

A visit to this eccentric neighborhood, where high-end galleries meet underground-style bars, is an introduction into another world where thinking outside the box is the norm.