For art aficionados, a new Wynwood emerges to the north

For art aficionados bound for Art Basel Miami Beach and this week’s other fairs, the private museums and galleries of the Wynwood Art District will be high on the must-see list. By midweek, the juice bars, coffee shops and craft breweries surrounding the Wynwood Walls street-art enclave will be as busy as Lincoln Road.

What Wynwood visitors may not find are the artists who helped shape the neighborhood into a global hotspot. Many of them — and a handful of gallerists — have headed north, renting studios amid the botanicas, sugarcane vendors and discount clothiers of Little Haiti and the track-side stretch of warehouses known as the Little River Business District.

Artists including Edouard Duval-Carrie, Emmett Moore, Agustina Woodgate, Carlos Betancourt and Bhakti Baxter find the vibe there — and the prices – just right for studios and, in some cases, even living space.

When Moore returned to Miami from college a few years ago, he immediately gravitated to Little River, where he worked a decade ago as a high school artist. “It’s kind of quiet and off the grid. You could get a big space for cheap,” he said — size being critical for his large furniture pieces. Rents range around $8 to $12 per square foot.

For Moore, Wynwood was never an option. Finding any commercial space for less than $40 per square foot is now nearly impossible, said Realtor Tony Cho of Metro 1 Properties. And with many artists moving elsewhere, the energy wasn’t right for Moore.

As for Little River, “Right now, it’s a really good community, where you can collaborate with other artists and feed off each other.”

Betancourt agrees. After working in Wynwood, Opa-locka and El Portal, Betancourt last week purchased land for a home/studio in Little River, where he will be able to create both two-dimensional artworks and sculptures.

“There’s an organic feeling of the way it is progressing … there’s a very careful planning behind it, with special consideration to the artists,” Betancourt said. “This is always very fragile. The bigger developers with big ideas can come in too soon, and that can jeopardize the organic feeling. They are extremely aware of that.”

By “they,” he means a group led by Avra Jain, the developer who also is helping to reshape MiMo, the district of Midcentury Modern-style motels and storefronts along Biscayne Boulevard, from about Northeast 50th to 79th streets. For Jain, the collaborative spirit and Little River’s gritty funkiness are part of the attraction.

While she was refurbishing MiMo’s centerpiece Vagabond Motel, which opened earlier this fall, Jain and business partner Matthew Vander Werff also quietly bought 100,000 square feet in Little River, between 71st and 75th streets along North Miami Avenue and west to Northwest Second Avenue.

Drawn by its generous spaces and affordable prices, artists had already moved into Little River. Jain and her group recognized the critical mass and set about securing enough land to form what they hope will be a creative enclave where costs for artists remain low, eventually subsidized by higher-paying tenants such as galleries and restaurants. The vision is Bushwick-meets-Brooklyn-meets-SoHo, with a Miami twist.

“Creative people like to be together,” said Jain, who also worked on adaptive reuse projects in New York’s SoHo and Tribeca neighborhoods. “Industrial areas are set up nicely for creatives, whether it’s artists or creative offices for tech or co-working, or trades people.”

Eventually, she and Vander Werff hope to offer artists the opportunity to buy lofts at affordable prices, so they not only work in the neighborhood but live there as well. “It is the artists that help create the texture and soul of the neighborhood,’ she said. “When they’re gone, a lot of it goes with them.”

Jain owns the 20,000-square-foot building housing Fountainhead Studios at Northwest 73rd Street and Miami Court. Run by executive director Kathryn Mikesell, Fountainhead provides work space for more than 30 artists including sculptor Don Lambert; street artist TYPOE, and Sandra Ramos, whose politically charged works reflect her dual life as a part-time Havana resident.

For the coming Art Basel week, Jain has put together Big Trouble in Little River, a pop-up event featuring a Chris Oh-curated exhibition “Current State,” featuring works by Jim Drain, TYPOE, Mike Vasquez and Nicholas Lobo. Cocktails and wood-fired pizza will be supplied by Hot Satellite, the mobile arm of a new hospitality group created by Eddie Diaz, Brian Best and Rick Dacey of New York and Los Angeles. DJs will also play at the 7,000-square-foot courtyard space, open Thursday through Dec. 7.

Jain’s endeavor builds on other longtime neighborhood efforts. In the 1990s, developer Mallory Kauderer started buying industrial properties in the 90-acre district edging Miami’s first railroad track, already home to McArthur Dairy. The neighborhood is now occupied by space-hungry businesses including metalworkers, upholsterers, craftsmen, event planners, photographers, prop houses and shoot sets like those at Kauderer’s Little River Studios. And, increasingly, artists.

Not that most people would ever know it. Most businesses are tucked behind tall gates and barbed-wired walls, invisible to passersby. In 2006, at the request of then-City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones, Kauderer — who recently bought Churchill’s Pub — became chairman of the Little River Business District Association, aimed at solidifying an atmosphere that could boost neighborhood employment. Working with the city, the association has organized security teams, improved lighting and created a branding program. Its work is most evident to drivers along North Miami Avenue from 61st to 79th streets, where signs hanging on lamp posts announce the Little River Business District.

Not that every neighborhood enterprise wants to be associated with Little River. Geographic monikers are a hot topic here; some businesses want to be identified with Little Haiti, some with Little River, others with Lemon City or MiMo or the Historic Upper East Side.

Regardless of the name, the streets west of Biscayne and north of 54th increasingly are drawing creative businesses in collaborative spaces. At Northeast 69th Street and Second Avenue, Pipeline Workspaces is planning an 80,000-square-foot warehouse and creative studios for artists, tech and product entrepreneurs, said Pipeline co-founder Todd Oretsky. And in Ofer Mizrahi’s 100,000-square-foot “green” warehouse complex called Miami Ironside, architects and designers work a stone’s throw from MiMo; the Swiss firm Laufen just signed its first U.S. space in the complex, which this week will host design events including a talk featuring Ron Arad.

A few galleries have crept into the area. When Wynwood prices skyrocketed, lawyer-turned-gallerist Karla Ferguson and her husband, artist Jerome Soimaud, sold the warehouse studio they bought when they first arrived here from Paris in 2006. Last December they opened Yeelen Gallery in Little Haiti, on 54th Street west of Northwest Second Avenue. There, they showcase both his work and that of artists including James B. Clover, England’s Michael Sole and Joseph Adolphe. During Basel week, the gallery is hosting an exhibition of work by Tim Okamura.

Artist-run GucciVuitton gallery was another pioneer, opening in spring 2013 in the 8300 block of Northeast Second Avenue. Artists Aramis Gutierrez, Loriel Beltran and Domingo Castillo say they were disillusioned with the increasingly materialistic bent of Wynwood and wanted to feature less commercial art. The name they chose is a reference to small galleries displaced farther south by elite fashion entities — as well as the knock-offs often found on the Little Haiti streets. It also speaks to Miami’s obsession with importing brands and images, rather than concentrating on
what is home-grown.

One of the gallery’s first exhibitions featured landscape art of Florida, including from a group of African-American artists known as the Highwaymen, who made postcard-like paintings on the roadsides in the 1950s and ’60s. During Basel week, the gallery will host a trio of European artists for “Luxury Face (working title),” exploring the commercialization of art outside the intrinsic quality of the artwork.

In November, Michael Jon — one of two local galleries showcased at Art Basel Miami Beach this year, along with the Frederic Snitzer gallery — left its small second-floor space near downtown for an expanded showcase on 69th Street.

“There aren’t very many options in Miami, especially ones in neighorboods that we can afford but are still relatively central,” says Alan Guterriez, who worked at the Emerson Dorsch Gallery before joining Michael Jon as a partner. “I think it’s interesting for part of the overall viewing experience to be in a bit of a destination, instead of, say, an arts-district-type area.”

On Friday, Kansas City’s Bill Brady Gallery — which will also show at the NADA Fair — will open in Miami, next to GucciVuitton.

Why not in Wynwood? “Little Haiti is full of energy,” Brady said. “The artists are there, and we will have some very cool neighbors.”

That’s not to say that Wynwood’s star has dimmed. Two private museums — Margulies Collection and Rubell Family Collection — are located in Wynwood, along with 30-plus galleries including Emerson Dorsch, Alexandra von Hartz, Gallery Diet and Diana Lowenstein, and the artist studios of the Bakehouse Art Complex.

Wynwood pioneers Goldman Properties, now run by Jessica Srebnick, continues to invest in Wynwood’s creative pursuits. This year, she has commissioned pairs of street artists with differing styles for “The Art of Collaboration,” a refashioning of the Wynwood Walls outdoor museum created by her late father, Tony Goldman. While some other Wynwood landowners have focused on upscale tenants paying top dollar, Goldman continues to work with key arts tenants in the buildings owned by the family. “We want to keep world-class art in Wynwood,” she said.

If the neighborhood is less gritty than it once was, that’s just fine with Diet Gallery owner Nina Johnson-Milewski, who opened in a far rougher Wynwood eight years ago. “This is now a neighborhood where my clients don’t have to worry about getting out of the car. I can walk up the street and take them to lunch … . That has meant a lot to artists, too, that the people who see their shows and buy their work don’t have to look over their shoulders.”

The real bottom line might be that art isn’t moving out of Wynwood; art is growing overall, and Miami could be is ready to support several “art hubs.” But to reach that and other milestones indicating the region is rising to the next level as an arts center, Knight Foundation arts Vice President Dennis Scholl and others say something else is needed.

“What remains missing in Miami vs. the ecosystem nationally is a well-recognized MFA program,” Scholl says. This would create a constant stream of quality artists drawn to the area for education and provide teaching opportunities for artists that would supplement their incomes.

Miami artist Adler Guerrier, whose solo exhibit now hangs at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, thinks the local arts infrastructure still needs work. “Maybe developers could voluntarily create spaces where artists and bohemian types will be able to rent space,” he suggests. “Maybe it’s more teaching positions … those gestures. We know government often gives incentives to business. Artists are a type of business venture that should attract government support.”

Miami Herald staff writer Nancy Dahlberg contributed to this report.

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