Not (just) a Bar

The walls at Bar get a new look thanks to artist Cody Hudson. Photo: Justin Namon /

Self-referential titles are not uncommon to an area officially dubbed ‘Arts District.’ Taking PS14’s ironic ‘Public School’ name to the next level, Bar is Miami’s latest post-ironic add-on.

True to its name, Miami’s quirkier side has had its fair share of galleries and public spaces embrace a contemporary approach to art exposition and installation. But apparently, using galleries is still a bit too obvious. Art moguls need something less predictable (and with a readily available liquor license).

A space designed for drinking and submerging oneself into the utterly un-intellectual, the bar (or, specifically, Bar) is emerging as a place to contemplate artwork, while still becoming somewhat inebriated. Bar took over PS14’s former location, 28 NE 14th Street, early in 2010. Aside from upping the venue’s status from ironic to post-, the name change signified more than conceptual spiraling. Bar is a little more than a bar – it’s a continuously evolving artwork.

Bar is a project put together by the founders of Miami’s OHWOW art production organization. Every two months, a new artist is chosen to redesign the walls of Bar, putting up selected works to completely (re)cover the space. Pres Rodriguez, Art Director of Bar, describes the venture as a reaction to Miami’s famous – perhaps infamous – nightlife.

“The neighborhood has been missing a no frills local bar that catered to the younger, creative community. A place to just hang out and drink and share ideas. There are more than enough dance clubs in Miami. We just wanted to offer another option for when you don’t want to be home but you don’t want to be in a loud club either. Once that was set we added the art component to make sense of the fact that it’s related to OHWOW,” explains Rodriguez.

The gallery-bar link allows for a constant influx of artists, like Miami’s Freegums and Mike del Marmol, Todd James (aka REAS) from New York, and the newest addition – Chicago-based Cody Hudson. In their mission statement, Bar’s creators claim that they intend to “create a hub for Miami’s thriving creative community,” referring to its present hangouts as harboring “stale, pretentious Miami nightlife.” And if that wasn’t already ambitious, Bar also promises to inspire its crowds via the décor.

Throughout its short span, artists have taken different approaches to decorating Bar. While James decked the walls with interlacing images and designs, giving a graffitied appearance to the interior, del Marmol placed same-size rectangular pieces in a grid-like pattern across the walls.  “It’s almost like discovering a new venue every time we have a new installation,” said Rodriguez.

Bar sets a limit of one day to physically swap artists’ designs. The only day that it’s closed every two months, the Sunday before opening night (the following Monday) turns into quite a hectic scenario. Inevitably, the process involves mending a preconceived vision with some on-the-spot improvisations – making for a quirky, unpredictable turnout. On the last switch (August 1st), Hudson was able to recreate Bar without any overly compromising setbacks. Hudson is known for his signature modern, minimalist graphic design style, his urban aesthetic, and a slue of sleek commercial pieces done under the Struggle Inc label. Fortunately, Hudson was able to take a moment to answer some pressing questions:

Are the pieces you’ll be using to redesign Bar interrelated or selected at random?
They are all related in ways. Some appear more random but once strung together and combined with the printed zine component of the show, they all form a long string of similar thoughts.

Did you have a preconceived idea of how you wanted the layout to emerge? Or was it mostly improvised once you started locating space for pieces on the walls?
This was all worked out ahead of time, a few areas were left open for on site change but most was worked out. The video portion of the piece was done on site.

Do you consider this project a type of gallery show or an installation piece in itself?
I look at it as an installation. It’s not a gallery, it’s a bar and a meeting place for people – so I think you have to look at things differently than in a gallery. I wanted the patrons who come to the bar to have to interact with the piece while at the bar. I think it really takes spending some time inside the piece to start to have it all come together for people.

What reaction do you hope to evoke in people hanging out at the venue, unintentionally stumbling upon your (re)design?
As with a lot of my installation piece I’d like it to evoke different feelings in different people. I like to leave that open ended and let the viewer tell me how it makes them feel. I might feel an overwhelming sense of doom and depression from elements of it, but others might not and might pick up more of a euphoric vibe from it. I’m not here to tell the viewer how they should feel from it but more to open it up to let the viewer bring their own feeling into it.

Hudson’s views his role as an artist as a pivoting point for interpretation, without ambitions to overlap or restrain individual analysis. Similarly unassuming, Bar has no pretenses for replacing or competing with art galleries. The project’s drive is essentially to enhance what has become a possibly stale, predictable list of go-to venues in South Florida’s art hub.

Rodriguez acknowledges that “it’s just a local hangout. A place to simply go have a drink, meet some new people and offer an alternative to what we’ve come to know as Miami nightlife.” And taking a glance at Bar’s geography, its intentions aren’t unwarranted. Bar’s neighboring blocks are filled with dance clubs also aimed at this younger, up-and-coming “creative community” (The Vagabond, White Room, Electric Pickle, Grand Central, among other) – but not too many places to sit in and actually hear what the person next to you is saying.

“Miami is a party town. But everyone needs to have a place to wind down once in a while,” says Rodriguez. So don’t be mistaken, Miami still loves it’s strobes, bass, and disco balls. But sharing a drink inside of an art installation and having functioning eardrums for the following week – sounds considerably appealing as well.

Additional Resources:
Bar website:
OHWOW website:
Cody Hudson’s website:


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