Not For Sale: A Legacy of Graffiti & Street Art in Wynwood, Miami

Photo: Classic Miami street art in the Wynwood District.

Art Week in Miami is a massive affair, with tens of thousands of visitors descending on the city to party hop and shop, investing their wealth in objects of art. Reports indicate that although attendance at Art Basel in Miami Beach is down 9.4% from 2015, sales are strong. Paul Kasmin Gallery reported Lee Krasner’s Storm (1963) netting $6 million and the maquette of a commission by Roxy Paine for $2 million, while Acquavella Galleries announced the sale of Kenneth Noland’s Mach II (1964) was in the ballpark of its $1.25 million list price.

Also: The Full Showcase of Stories for Art Basel in Miami Beach

This massive concentration of wealth, both in the art and attendees, provides a bird’s eye view into the primary modern and contemporary art markets. One gallerist confided to me that though they did not specifically commission art for the fair, they curated their booth to work well as an exhibition, with an eye towards selecting works for an audience that will pay for it—given the overhead to participate at Art Basel.

Wynwood Doors, artwork by Tati.

“So the purpose of this is to sell?” an older gentlemen clearly out of his element asked while trying to keep pace as his group sped through the aisles past me. Yes, and the gallerists aren’t the only ones on the market; art fairs always attract their share of scantily clad women swimming through the waters like live bait, hoping to catch a whale—or at least a fish plate.

Although art has always been a tool of the ruling class to elevate and reinforce its status and the bourgeois who hope to join the ranks, it is not exclusively this. There is a place where art is for the people, by the people. That place is the Wynwood District. Centered around the construction of Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum to graffiti and street art that is free and open to the public, the neighborhood is home to block after block of public art.

Wywood Doors by Santiago Rubino

It easily attracts the youngest and most diverse demographic during Miami Art Week, appealing to tourist, art lover, and collector alike without requiring anything. No registration, no fees, no outlay of any sort to take in the sights, whether murals by legendary artists like eL Seed, whose “calligraffiti” blends the forms of Arab calligraphy with the tools of street art or local artist Santiago Rubino who combines fashion, nature, mysticism, and technology to create works inspired by the craftsmanship of Renaissance art, the works have universal appeal.

Some of this year’s stand-out walls include paintings by Crave fave John “Crash” Matos, Lady Pink, The London Police, Inti, and Fafi. There is also a series of free standing rocks that have designs by American artists Crystal Dreams (Tini Courtney and Griffin Loop) carved into them, combining the traditions of the First Peoples with the aesthetics of the graffiti movement.

Crystal Dreams rock art in front of Lady Pink mural.

Throughout the Wynwood District, new commissions are doing up left and right, creating a massive demonstration of live painting that both engages and demystifies. Though the artists are hired to produce work, their works can neither be bought nor sold. They exist for the public, to be enjoyed as part of the ambiance, destroying the divide between the work of art and the audience. Here, art is not to reinforce the rhetoric or supplement the assets of the ruling class; here, art exists to serve the all people of the world: they may take what they need from it, or, like Dionne Warwick sang, Walk on by.

At the same time, there are clearly works that have not been commissioned in any form. This is graffiti, and it is the livest art of all. It takes a certain personality to put their freedom at risk in order to get up and make their name on the streets. The rewards of notoriety and fame among a subset of like minds is all they desire in this, one of the most ephemeral of all the arts. These tags and throw[-ups in obscure and visible spots alike take us back to the earliest days of graffiti, reminding us where and why it all began.

Graffiti in the Wynwood District.

All photos: © Miss Rosen

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.