Not only was the Wynwood Art Fair a big success, raising over half a million dollars for the Lotus House shelter for homeless women and children, it was big, beautiful fun – a genuinely communal, creative, surprising event. Before we headed over there on Saturday afternoon my daughter (almost 8) was whinging that it wasn’t a ‘real’ fair. Turns out she couldn’t have had more fun if there had been real funhouses, instead of ones for the imagination. Who’d think that an avant-garde charity event could give life to the cliché about being fun for the young and young at heart? With its sweet, egalitarian, generous spirit, the only thing this had in common with the Basel bonanza headine her in December was the word "fair".
Helped that Saturday was perfect bright and breezy weather. Walking into the fair’s northern end at 29th street was like heading down a surreal discovery tunnel. Augustina Woodgate’s blocks long hopscotch course – we ran into her and several helpers painting squares number 480-something onto the street several blocks down – lured you down the street, one booth after another featuring conceptual cleverness relaxed into inclusive and engaging stuff to do. We barely glanced at the booths that just had art hung up – so traditional art fair. Much more fun to do instead of look.
What we did and liked (and this was just the first three-four blocks, which so filled up our three hours we couldn’t make it to the end). Juan Griego’s Hug Machine, a bright red wood robot where you tromped oversized golden pedals to wave long arms (gloves at the end kept falling off) in a ‘hug’. Kids loved it. A Miami Cuban-American, Griego made it out of homesickness. “I wasn’t living with my family and I wanted to make something that gave me a hug.”
At Gallery Diet’s Gorilla Taktiks, you could pluck a doll, a toilet seat, a hose, a shirt, a teddy bear, and much more from boxes and boxes of junk picked off the surrounding streets, and add them to a morphing, surreal 3D collage. Not only was the result the art, your participating was the art. “It’s about the experience,” co-creator Chad Cunha explained, “it’s about the viewer making art as well.”
At beaming Niizeki Hiromi’s gummy yummy multi-colored Gum Garden, you chewed from a selection of Juicy Fruit (wrappers recycled for the next project, please!), then spread the sticky pastel result onto a plexiglass panel on the chainlink fence separating 6th Avenue from zooming cars on I-95. Besides the excellent squealy grossout fun factor, the result was beautiful – colorful flowers and hearts and words and squiggles seeming to float in the air. Ruben Millares’ giant purple wood lotus petals bloomed with add on words, designs, more flowers that anyone could paint on. (On Sunday, it would be auctioned off for Lotus House).
Marc Grubstein of Brooklyn’s Fantastic Nobodies blew up a weather balloon with a trumpet (they had run out of helium), then half bounced, half floated it over the street as kids and grown-ups bounced it back until it popped. A policeman bought my daughter a cupcake because she was having a “stellar” day. We missed the Friends With You parade of giant blow-up space creatures, but got to enjoy a delicious miniature chocolate cake version, frosted in primary colors.
The crowd (at least 10,000 over three days) was one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen in Miami; 20-something artists, middle-age donors, meandering couples, children everywhere. They smeared bare white warehouse walls with chalk from a giant pile, drawing and smudging and smearing blank stucco into a spontaneous bloom of color. At the Anthony Spinello gallery booth Augustina Woodgate (the lady was busy) had another project, where you could sew labels printed with tiny poems written by women from Lotus House onto your own clothes, making a little piece of their expression yours. We chose “Love yourself, so you can love another” and “As the sun rises, so do I”. Sounds sentimental, I know, but with all that sun and creative good will, it felt just right.