Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, a 50-block world of intriguing, fantastical, humorous and puzzling pieces by established artists and newbies to spray paint, shouldn’t be missed. More than 330 murals emblazon storefronts, fences, doors and walls, transforming the neighborhood into one of the largest open-air art museums in the United States.
We strolled by a nipple-headed baby anchoring a piece containing giant false teeth and an eerie skull. What did artist Hiero Vago mean? We couldn’t possibly tell, but the baby’s image stayed with us, as did an alligator by Miguel Angel Sanchez, aka SATURNO. Gold chains drip from the monster-size critter’s teeth, and a bejeweled cape covers its back, which supports a teapot spewing red smoke. A new take on the Florida critter as opportunistic or a snarky comment about seaside doyennes or something else? Whatever it is, the image fascinated us.
Not everything felt mysterious, however. The lush green leaves in Adele Renault’s hyper-realistic “Birds of Paradise” floated sensuously against a building.
Visitors don’t need a guide to see the street art in Wynwood, but it’s wise to book one. Some people drive through the 50-block neighborhood snapping photos and others stroll, but either mode provides only a thumbnail sketch of the area and the art. Plus, traffic can be tricky.
The best way to understand the works is on a guided tour. A walking expedition wasn’t for us — too much humidity and too little ground covered. To see and learn the most about the pieces and the painters in an hour, we opted for a small group (four-person) guided golf-cart experience. Ivory (@Ivorytour), part of Wynwood Art Walk, zipped the cart down streets, around parking lots, through alleys, and up to construction sites to show us iconic murals and new ones, all the while providing excellent information on the artists, the works and the area.
At one point, Ivory paused our tour in front of a comic-book-style kissing couple by Dean Stockton, a.k.a. D*Face, the perfect place to grab your sweetie and pose for a selfie.
Be aware that change is the nature of street art. At night, a muralist might come along and paint over a piece or add their take to it, changing the composition.
Wynwood, a thriving garment and factory district in the 1920s, declined as businesses moved elsewhere by the 1970s. In the late 1980s local artists purchased an abandoned bakery and turned it into working studios. More artists followed. In 2009, Tony Goldman, developer and arts patron, debuted Wynwood Walls, a gated enclave of street murals that anchors the Wynwood Arts District. Wynwood Walls showcases noted and up-and-coming artists in its outdoor spaces and indoor galleries.
Kenny Scharf’s vivid collage of red, blue and yellow cartoonish shapes and Shepard Fairey’s refreshed mural that added Goldman to a pastiche of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela were among the many engaging works. Fairey painted “Hope,” the well-known portrait of Barack Obama for his 2012 campaign.
Like the art, Wynwood continues to evolve. In 2014 the neighborhood featured 60 murals. Now, more than five times that amount adorn the streets, and more change is coming. Among the companies open or are soon to open in the area are OAK Row Equities, Fisher Bros., Kushner Group, Goldman Group, and Lennar. Some murals have been lost, but according to the Wynwood Business Improvement District, the new buildings will house more murals. The WBID expects the mural count to jump to 400 to 500 in the next two to three years.
Inspired? Consider creating your own mural. Both Wynwood Art Walk and Wynwood Murals offer hands-on sessions in mural spray-painting. Be sure to wear a mask as the cans might contain VOC (volatile organic compounds) that smell bad and are potentially harmful to breathe.
No one lives by art alone. At Zak the Baker, a kosher bakery and cafe with a modern twist, we devoured wonderful rugalach and bread. Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn painted the vivid green, orange, blue, purple and pink striped mural that makes the cafe unmistakable. Zak’s also serves salads, soups and sandwiches. Crave Mexican fare? Head to Coyo Taco.
Easy to reach, the Wynwood Arts District is north of downtown Miami and west of Miami Beach. We drove less than 5 miles (about 25 minutes) from our base at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar South Beach.
When You Go
Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.miamiandthebeaches.com
Wynwood Art Walk: www.wynwoodartwalk.com
Wynwood Walls: www.thewynwoodwalls.com
Wynwood Business Improvement District: www.wynwoodmiami.com
Zak the Baker: www.zakthebaker.com
Coyo Taco: www.coyo-taco.com
Kimpton Hotel Palomar South Beach: www.hotelpalomar-southbeach.com