Miami Art Week 2023: From Basel to Wynwood

Written by J. Scott Orr, Photography by Elizabeth Freeman

MIAMI – The limos were backed-up the other day over on Convention Center Drive in Miami Beach, where the world’s elite artists, gallerists and collectors were about to get their practiced scopophilia on. They were well-groomed, tanned, dressed in tart, colored resort-wear, a look that acknowledged a relaxed, moneyed aesthetic. Commerce was surely in the offing at this 21st edition of Art Basel Miami, which welcomed its most important guests on Wednesday, days in advance of the art-loving rank and file.

But wait, stalking the sidewalk were a pair whose look and demeanor were in sharp contrast to the pearl-clutching, haute-couture wearing art-fiends that were arriving in limos, Bentleys and Teslas. LeCrue Eyebrows and Sinclair the Vandal, really? Shouldn’t these two New York City street art VIPs be across Biscayne Bay mixing it up with the spray paint and wheat paste set in Miami’s graffiti/street art mecca of Wynwood?

“We’ll be over there at the Museum of Graffiti event later, but right now we wanted to check this out,” Sinclair said, gesturing toward the massive convention center that holds Art Basel and the structure across the street where Design Miami is on display. The two were waiting for the V-VIP opening to end so they could exercise their mere VIP entrée to the big show, but they had already taken in Design Miami, which Lecrue described as “exquisite.”

This kind of counterintuitive genre tourism says something about the very nature of art, about the importance of acknowledging divergent tastes and styles, and of tolerating catholic interests in the commission and appreciation of art. Art shouldn’t be a competitive, one-or-the-other, Nirvana-Pearl Jam type dichotomy.

“I don’t believe in putting a word before or after anything art related.” – LeCrue Eyebrows

“I don’t believe in putting a word before or after anything art related. Art, that should be there by itself.  The fact that street artists are taking their spot and that street art, quote/unquote, is getting in here I think is next level, well deserved and opening lots of doors,” said LeCrue, whose work is featured in Context, one of the big art week shows, for the first time this year,

For his part, Sinclair acknowledges the accelerating confluence of street art and fine art, but bridles at artists who bathe their work in street art sensibilities just to give it currency.

“People who weren’t affiliated with street art have now dipped their toes into street art and they are, for lack of a better term, culture vultures. They’re using graffiti terminology, street art terminology, imagery, pop culture, but they have no affiliation or legitimacy. They’re doing it on canvas. I do that now, but my roots were in the street,” he said. At the same time, though, that hasn’t kept Sinclair from attending Miami Art Week fairs, including Basel, every year.

There’s no denying the contrast between the scene at Miami Beach Basel week art fairs and the scene in Wynwood

All that said, there’s no denying the contrast between the scene at Basel week art fairs and the scene the other night along 2nd Avenue near 25th Street in Wynwood, where the arrival of the venerable Wynwood Walls outdoor museum in 2009 helped propel the neighborhood to the heights of graffiti/street art prominence.

At the aforementioned Museum of Graffiti, VIPs of a different stripe were sipping tequila drinks from plastic cups, while swaying to a throbbing beat at the opening of a show called The Art of Hip Hop, which featured photographs and work by the likes of photographers Henry Chalfant, Janette Beckman and Danny Hastings along with art from Cey Adams, Lady Pink, Claw Money and others.

A few blocks away, amid an open air art, music and commerce festival off 2nd Avenue, Miami artist GOSA was putting some final touches on a mural on the side of a shipping container that featured cartoon icon Richie Rich. Earlier he had completed a commission that involved painting a police car.

It doesn’t matter if it’s in a gallery in Miami Beach or on the street over here.” – GOSA

“It’s all art, that’s all. If you’re spray painting on a wall, or painting a canvas, on the street or in a gallery, if it’s sanctioned or illegal, commissioned, for you’re own enjoyment, whether you’re paid or not. It’s all about the art. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a gallery in Miami Beach or on the street over here,” he said.

A few blocks away, New York City artist Steve Ce, was toting a bag full of art and supplies. The night before, Steve had gotten into an unfortunate engagement with a Miami cop who didn’t feel he showed enough deference when he was told to stop spraying on the street. The cop smashed him in the face, which accounted for the swollen red mark across his nose.

“Look, I think the fairs over there in Miami Beach are great. I think this is great too.” – Steve_Ce

“They didn’t think I was de-escalating fast enough, I guess,” said Steve, who was nonetheless ready to resume his Miami Art Week pursuits: “Look, I think the fairs over there in Miami Beach are great. I think this is great too. You don’t have to pick one,” he said, pausing to admire his work from the night before on the sidewalk on 2nd Ave., a yellow and blue Steve_Ce tag.

Around the corner on 26th Street, at a gallery in a boutique called Out of Pocket Miami, Danny Cortes, the emerging king of New York hyperrealistic urban grit sculpture, had a new style on display. Known for his miniatures of urban fixtures like buildings and ice machines, he went the other way this time, creating a hyperrealistic, six-foot-tall rendering of a U.S. mailbox.

“If you have a goal to be in galleries, go for it, if you don’t, keep rockin’ the streets.” – Danny Cortes

“During the pandemic I was working on miniatures. I’ve upped it a notch now and making a big statement, instead of life-sized I’m upping it,” he said. Cortes, who went from making miniatures at his mom’s house to selling work at Sotheby’s, had this advice for young graffiti/street artists: “Keep going, keep doing your thing and if you have a goal to be in galleries go for it, if you don’t keep rockin’ the streets.”

Outside that event, street artist and curator SacSix offered similar advice, stressing the importance of keeping true to your roots.

“Do art in the streets and keep doing it and don’t stop even when you get into the fancy art shows:  you got in probably because you were doing street art, so don’t stop doing street art. A lot of these cats will stop because now they’re fine artists and they’re in the galleries and they’re not on the streets anymore. Stay on the streets, that’s where it’s at. That’s my only advice, that’s what’s got me here, that’s what I’m gonna keep doing,” he said.

Heading back toward the fine art fair ground zero of Miami beach, soul music legend George Clinton, he of Parliament-Funkadelic, was performing at Pérez Art Museum Miami, on the banks of Biscayne Bay as fireworks lit the sky across the way in Miami Beach.

He probably wasn’t offering advice to the artists in the crowd, but he could have been: “Shit. Goddamn. Get off your ass and Jam.”

Scott Orr is a career writer, editor and a recovering political journalist. He is publisher of the East Village art magazine B Scene Zine.

Instagram: @bscenezine