By Ciara LaVelle
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As the week of madness known as Art Basel Miami Beach descends on the city, artists everywhere are putting in due diligence on their 12-by-12 canvases or abstract ceramic sculptures. Others, though, are simply waiting patiently for their cue to start painting. While collectors swan around convention halls looking at more easily purchased pieces, in Wynwood a show known as "Primary Flight" will take to actual walls.
"We don't abide by gallery hours; we're constantly open, working way past the 9-to-5. Art to me is about being in the moment," says BooksIIII, a local street art maven and principal curator of "Primary Flight." "We are creating something brand-new right there in front of you."
In its third year, "Primary Flight" is considered the largest multisite street-level mural installation in the world. More than 100 artists — some with household names (Kenny Scharf), others with almost enigmatic names (Parskid) — travel from near and far to create their pieces. The aim, BooksIIII says, is to "give back to the community rather than just raid and abandon this place once Basel is over." Local property management companies and some high-profile galleries have donated their walls as concrete canvases for the world's top street artists, who are all painting for free.
Even the Obama-stencil superstar himself, Shepard Fairey, will return to "Primary Flight" this year. "There is an immense pool of talent that travels to Miami for the art fairs," he says, "and many of them prefer to share their work with a broad audience on the street." Yes we can!
This populist mentality has always resonated strongly with BooksIIII, who was put off by his first experience with Art Basel Miami Beach, what he calls "the circus" coming to town. "We were disenchanted by the whole thing. It was just crazy seeing all these tents start popping up out of nowhere — empty storefronts all of a sudden becoming these high-end contemporary art galleries," he says. "And here we are, just wanting to fucking paint!"
During its conception, "Primary Flight" might have been a fuck-you to the art establishment, BooksIIII admits. But what began as a collaboration of 15 graffiti artists and muralists is now a show featuring some of street art's crème de la crème.
"We're really lucky to have all this talent here in Miami," says Typoe, a Miami graffiti staple who also helped curate the exhibition. "Talking with guys like Marty Margulies, he knows it's important that we showcase art in public places. It attracts people to come through, tourists, businesses."
Aside from the outdoor installations, this year is the first in which the "Primary Flight" crew will also boast a related gallery exhibition in the heart of the circus in Miami Beach. ArtCenter/South Florida will host "Blue Print for Space," highlighting more than 25 street artists that are making moves in both the alleyways and the galleries.
"'Primary Flight' is doing important work to support their own community and provide an audience for a mostly underground movement with 'Blue Print for Space,'" says Jeremy Chestler, ArtCenter/South Florida's director. "We're proud to work with them to give viewers a glimpse into the world of street art with this museum-quality exhibition."
With this increasing support, "Primary Flight" has become more than an annual art lover's attraction. As a brand, it has garnered much recognition from other mainstream establishments and this year even scored a partnership with one of the biggest hip-hop producers of all time, Dr. Dre.
No, Dre didn't create an exclusive beat for the exhibit's soundtrack. His headphones company, Beats by Dr. Dre, has donated several one-of-a-kind pairs of headphones, which selected artists will customize. Each creation will be auctioned for charity at ArtCenter/South Florida, with the in-person support of Dre and Jimmy Iovine, the legendary chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M. Not bad for a bunch of street kids who started off tagging up the streets.
"We're excited to have Dre be a part of this project," BooksIIII says. "We know he gets a lot of proposals sent to his desk, and for him to look at ours and get down without question shows that we're doing something right!"
"Primary Flight": With live painting through Sunday, December 6, around Wynwood, with the Primary Flight Compound at the intersection of NW 24th Street and NW Sixth Avenue, Miami. Admission is free. Visit primaryflight.com for a map.
"Blue Print for Space": Through January 2 at ArtCenter/South Florida, 800 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Admission is free. Opening reception 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, December 2. Call 305-674-8278 or visit artcentersf.org.