An embarrassment of riches in so many ways, the Wynwood Street Art and mural scene is outrageously sexy, flashy, ugly, posey, pretty, proliferate and quizzically content-free. The annual outdoor urban art visual carnival that accompanies Art Basel in Miami is full of hi/low expectation and spectacle, and it confidently delivers on both.
Long-limbed and shimmery sleek women are often working the sidewalks like runways, the men are carefully posing/not posing/posing with open shirts and genial braggadocio, and there are thousands, more likely millions of selfies taken in front of painted walls.
International art fans are mixing with skater kids and hip hop heads and egg-headed social scientists and teenage marching bands and they are all gawking and interacting with loquacious mamacitas and bearded lumbersexuals; this is not your average clambake.
Sometimes it is just weird; flourescence mixed with plaid, shot-callers and violins, strollers and stillettos, an undertone of aggression and sexual tension, salt-of-the-earth with self-admiring clubbers, perfect skin and aerosol painted hands, a whiff of weed and a sense of wonder waiting to be discovered.
While there was a parade of 40 or so citizens and activists carrying signs and handing out flyers down the street to protest the oil pipelines taking sacred lands from native tribes and polluting natural water supplies, the thousands of art fans flooding the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami would have been hard pressed to find any Street Art talking about those topics.
Ironically the political shockwaves this year in Miami seemed to emanate from behind doors at the fair with Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” piece that many interpreted as a direct response to the election of a president whose followers include radical organizations that champion white supremacy. Alas, the piece was made in 2008, and although its hand-style emulates the hit and run scrawl of some graffiti on the street, it was a thoughtfully executed piece constructed as an illuminated sign.
With one very notable exception, the enormous and frightful mural featuring Donald Trump as Heath Ledger’s Joker wielding a knife at the neck of the Statue of Liberty with the screaming headline “Come On… What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?” by 12 artists for The Bushwick Collective/Mana Urban Arts Project, the professionalization of Street Artists and their murals may be steering the paintings in Wynwood away from in-your-face activism.
Granted, no one is thinking that commercially branded ventures that actually pay artists to paint will encourage the outright expression of social or political opinions – that may challenge or frighten potential customers and investors. Hotel lobbies need murals, sport cars need decorative painting, beer cans need labels. A number of liquor and lifestyle companies have invited artists here over the last few years and paid them to make their special events and products visually appealing, but little else.
The newly refurbished Hard Rock stadium a few miles north of Miami features huge mural installations by international Street Artists that are curated by Goldman Global Arts, a division of Goldman Properties, the same real estate organization that has brought artists from around the world to the Wynwood Walls compound and featured their fine art canvasses in gallery expositions since the late 2000s. The pieces are opus works in an unusual setting and now sports fans are going to be up close and personal with some of the bigger names in Street Art right now.
It would be hypocritical for anyone to expect that these artists should accept commercial work and yet disrespect guidelines about the content. Similarly, expecting artists not to seek commercial opportunities for fear of “selling out” is arrogant and unrealistic and often the convenient provenance of privileged youth who dabble in “slumming” as a rebellious lifestyle. Later they are bankers.
Even so, where’s the anger right now? Why didn’t you see a lot of furious diatribes, challenges to power, and mockery of small-minded thinking on the street in Wynwood – and what would it take for Street Art to embrace its power to affect social and political change?
Just posing the question here now, again – as the topics of impending fascism, the increasing acts of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, corruption, oligarchy, state-corporatism, and a systematic eroding of respect for our institutions – all came up in conversations at bars, art openings, panel discussions, and roof parties.
The murals you see here are often technically superb and their themes, while muted, may address some of the larger themes affecting society, but one wonders if there is an internalized censorship that we have accepted.
These images are admittedly of a modest percentage of the hundreds of legal murals and illegally dashed-off pieces we saw this week, but that’s only because we have edited for our individual aesthetics, not because of content. Also admittedly, as people in the arts, we are exhausted from the recent election and all it portends, and we were happy for some glorious eye candy to salve the psychic wounds – so maybe we were selectively seeing what we wanted to.
Probably not too much though.
For an art practice with some serious and proud roots in activism, the walls in Miami are curiously quiet. But they definitely look amazing.
Our week’s coverage on BSA:
Wynwood Awakes: BSA x UN BERLIN ART BASEL 2016: Dispatch 1
Police Arrest in Miami: BSA x UN BERLIN ART BASEL 2016: Dispatch 2
You’ll Need Good Shoes: BSA x UN BERLIN ART BASEL 2016: Dispatch 3
Clubhouse Chemistry in a Warehouse : BSA x UN BERLIN ART BASEL 2016: Dispatch 4
Paint, Protest, Party : BSA x UN BERLIN ART BASEL 2016: Dispatch 5
Urban Contemporary Inside the Fair : BSA x UN BERLIN ART BASEL 2016: Dispatch 6
This article is the result of a collaborative partnership with BSA and Urban Nation (UN).
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