DWNTWN Art Days transformed downtown Miami this weekend with more than 130 public art events ranging from sidewalk dance performances to Reed van Brunschot's giant inflatable Godzilla swiping at the passing Metromover from the Christ Fellowship Church balcony.
It also featured a series of four unique walking tours led by artist T. Wheeler Castillo, who placed the downtown Miami art scene into larger historical contexts for his gaggles of humidity-and-art loving amblers. At least that was the idea. On the tour that Cultist tagged along for, we were too distracted too notice by the weird racist board games and the shirtless Icelanders whose jiggling bellies assailed our shores with all the lustful enthusiasm of their Viking forebears.
But join us anyway as we shake off the art hangover and look through our photos from the tour to see if, in spite of our best efforts, we learned something about downtown Miami art.
Our tour began outside this already popular condominium that is bound to become even more popular when folks realize that three of its floors are occupied by the Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Study Center. The space was previously Wolfson's private office but, like the Wolfsonian museum in Miami Beach with which this location shares its collection, Wolfson has donated it to FIU. It's open to the public but visitors need to make an appointment first because that's just polite.
The theme for this tour was the lasting legacy of the Aesthetic Movement on Miami art, and Castillo would be showing us downtown Miami art that placed a high premium on craft. Regardless of Castillo's fascination with this clipboard, it is not part of the Wolfsonian collection's of decorative objects from 1885 to 1945. Wait! Before you reject a museum based on it's clipboard dearth, it also has a ton of Nazi stuff!
"We have all the dictators well represented here," said Wolfsonian collections specialist Lea Nickless. "It's important to look to the past to prepare ourselves for what's ahead." As such, visitors to the Study Center are welcome to take their picture with a Nazi. Just remember that the real final solution to every problem is a smile.
But if your crypto-fascist toddler is getting antsy while waiting to be mobilized by an authoritarian vanguard, don't worry; the study center features an activity center with games for the kids.
Need more fun? It's also probably okay to step on this carpet.
According to Nickless, the Study Center was "designed to be more informal, like open storage." Here she shows the tour group a one-of-a-kind intricate handcrafted chest. We checked: those are protective gloves on her hands, not Cheese Doodle dust. Phew.
From the Study Center, Castillo took the group from a historical repository of craft objects to the studio of a Miami artist who utilizes craft techniques in her contemporary practice. But to get there, we would need to ride the Metromover, Miami's most complete collection of urine smells and disheveled mutterers.
Soon we reached the DWNTWN Arthouse, a 20,000 square foot studio and exhibition space occupied by major Miami artist groups like the Bas Fischer Invitational, TM Sisters, Dimensions Variable and Castillo's own Turn-Based Press. The building was formerly occupied by a deep sea fishing supply company, and when it became the Arthouse, Castillo and TM Sisters designed a new mural. They painted over a bland ocean and sky scene, turning the sea black because they are artists with tortured souls, and then made a pretty sick color-fade sunset.
In a Hanukkah-ish miracle, the Arthouse only had a budget to paint one wall but was able to cover the whole building. Three days later, one side of the building was tagged, but the Arthouse then had some LA street artists paint over the tags. The original vandals only had the budget to paint one side of the building and one side is all they painted -- clearly god was not on their side the way he is with the downtown Miami art scene.
Inside the Dimensions Variable space, a gang of Icelandic artists were getting naked while installing their show. The Icelanders are not merely body sculptors, but also work in mixed media. Here they were smashing up old VHS tapes and stirring the shards into their project.
See, Mom? It IS art!
We then met Miami artist Frances Trombly, who runs and works out of the Dimensions Variable space being colonized by the orgiastic Icelanders. Trombly primarily uses textiles in her art, a perfect example of what Castillo was showing the group: pieces that utilize the methods and techniques of craft.
This is Frances at her loom, where she does much of the very physical fabrication of her work. "This is where my toned arms come from," she says. "I leave the loom and I feel good." She is currently weaving 75 feet of fabric for a November installation at Locust Projects that will "undulate through the space."
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Not all of her work is on such a large scale. Here we see some handstitched "receipts" she made that immortalize some local Miami purchases. If it didn't take her an hour to stitch each line of the receipts, this might be a good way to keep from missing out on tax deductions when we wash our pants with our receipts from the Booby Trap still in the pockets.
To close out the tour, Castillo took the group back to the Metromover station where he gave the group a chance to put their tushies on some public art. These seats are actually terrazzo sculptures. Terrazzo, according to Castillo, "is a conglomerate of glass and stone with a resin or concrete base. It's heavily tied to Miami and fills the city from the smallest apartments to the grandest hotel. One of my first memories was lying on a terrazzo floor and realizing how cool it was and how it cooled my body."
And with that, we all wanted nothing more than to curl up against the terrazzo floors of our mind, cooling off in the restorative radiance of public art. Castillo, however, had more tours to give. And we had to go check on those naked Icelanders.