Muffins. Artist Carlos Betancourt is contemplating muffins outside a warehouse full of art owned by New York art dealer Robert Miller. The structure sticks out like a corrugated steel iceberg in the middle of the lush and gritty Wynwood street where Betancourt lives. As the artist ponders whether to serve the humdrum cakey treats at a breakfast bash for bigwig museum types visiting the Art Basel extravaganza, roosters crow from the yard across the street and leathery abuelos keep watch over their lowbrow manicured gardens.
Another option would be to serve the VIPs something con sabor: tostada cubana and Puerto Rican pasteles, for instance.
Betancourt puts off ordering the food from the guy on the other end of the cell phone. He knows that the details can make a difference with his power-player Manhattan guests, and he needs more time to decide. Muffins would send a stark post-postmodern "a-muffin-is-a-muffin-is-a-muffin" message. Doing the ethnic thing, though, with sweet syrupy tacitas of black coffee could contribute that "Miami flair" to his fête that screams all things Latino. In either case his objective is to let the visitors know that his breakfast affair, taking place in a tree-lined one-rung-ahead-of-poverty Puerto Rican hood, is the place to be.
And it just might be.
All of a sudden Betancourt's gritty little ghetto -- where tow-truck companies take impounded cars and homeboys do shady business at cafetería windows -- is the focus of the art world. Collectors such as Martin Marguiles and Mera and Don Rubell for years have housed conceptual treasures in massive compounds that once were factories. Lately dozens of cutting-edge galleries such as Rocket Projects, Dorsch Gallery, Objex Art Space, and others have sprouted in the area that was once known as a Miami crack haven. Even venerable gallerist Fredric Snitzer is moving his showroom from tony Coral Gables to a warehouse spot located across from a cement factory and near a homeless shelter.
Art Basel, the international art fair that is expected this weekend to bring thousands of collectors, agents, and just plain moneybags to town, is Wynwood's chance to shine. Artists like Betancourt are opening their homes to Basel fairgoers. And local creative types of all ilks are scrambling to be seen, either by improvising group shows in ramshackle warehouses or taking their work to the streets.
Artist and Food Culture Museum curator Antoni Miralda will be attracting the hordes to his gallery, TransEAT, not with glossy postcard invitations but by using the olfactory senses. His wife, Montse Guillen, and artist Daniel Moncada will be filling the night sky with the scents of smoked turkey, pork, and beef. They will also be serving Jamaican jerk chicken in aluminum foil, and if cold weather descends, a steaming corn chowder.
The feast will complement the diverse collection of food-centric art by Betancourt, Charo Oquet, Miralda, Gino Rubert, Storm Saulter, and twelve other artists, curated by Julieta Gonzalez.
"We're sending out smoke," Miralda quips. "It's about chemistry. It says that Wynwood smells."
The point, says Nina Arias, owner of Rocket Projects and leader of the Wynwood Art District, a loose coalition of galleries and studios in the neighborhood, is to put Wynwood on the map of the world's art cognoscenti. "The objective is to show an international audience where serious art is," Arias says. "We're saying, 'Hey, we have the best art in town -- come to our neighborhood.'"
She not only got the crowd together to produce a map of all the art spots in Wynwood, but she got real estate developers to contribute money for the hot pink banners strung up on street lamps and electrical poles along North Miami Avenue and 36th Street. Arias also organized a trolley service that will take art lovers to all the galleries and studios in the neighborhood. The trolleys leave every half hour from the ASPIRA Building (3650 N. Miami Ave.).
In addition, following Swiss traditions, many other galleries and collections including Dorsch Gallery, the Rubell Collection, and the Bakehouse Art Center will be serving up breakfast for Art Basel patrons.
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The artists won't be the only ones riding the Wynwood bandwagon. Developers are keeping an eye (and hand) in the affair. After all, the out-of-towners who will be sitting at Miralda's or Betancourt's breakfast tables are the same people developers hope to attract to the planned luxury high-rises that are gobbling up city blocks in nearby Edgewater.
If the recipe smells like gentrification, don't be surprised. Wynwood is experiencing the fast-paced transition that occurs when a cheap urban center is deemed funky and artistic.
Betancourt, who's been living in his house for just two years, says he is feeling the squeeze as more and more artists get in line to buy one of the quaint shacks on his block. "People started coming here because there was something unique," Betancourt says, noting that two artists have recently bought on the block across the street from him. "Because of that, it's time for me to move on."
TransEAT's group show opens Thursday, December 4, at 10:30 p.m. and runs through December 7 at 2417 N Miami Ave; 305-576-0406. Carlos Betancourt's "Interventions in Wynwood & Other Recent Works" opens at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, December 4, and runs through January 12 at Paradeisos bldg 3, 3620 NE Miami Ave; 305-573-7663. The Wynwood Art District Trolley runs every half-hour from 3650 N Miami Ave on Thursday, November 4, at 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 8:00 p.m. to midnight. No fare; 305-576-6082.