I grew up going to Second Saturday Art Walk in the mid-to-late-2000s, when Gallery Diet and David Castillo Gallery had just opened in Wynwood. Elite art aficionados and kids looking for free wine lurked inside while the local community remained outside. It was a quiet gentrification at first. Since then, neither the Puerto Rican community nor the two original galleries exist along NW Second Avenue. Meanwhile, Wynwood has exploded, leaving a trail of galleries relocating to cheaper neighboring areas. But galleries that remain are still showcasing interesting works.
I learned during those early days of wandering that art galleries can be pretentious and inaccessible, shrouded in silence or self-conscious conversations. But the gallery world has more to offer. Some of Miami's best spaces are warm and invite critical dialogue — fostering community among local artists while opening the doors for outsiders to share their work.
In the age of Miami's cultural renaissance, here are the city's ten best contemporary art galleries.
10. Butter Gallery
2930 NW Seventh Ave., Miami
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's exhibit at Butter last month was enigmatic and intimate. The Forbes "30 Under 30" recipient is known for work addressing conflict in public spaces, such as police violence against blacks, the Arab Spring uprisings, and sexual violence against women. This is characteristic of the shows Butter Gallery's Francisco De La Torre invites into his space. The Puerto Rico-born, Miami-based director also curates the adjacent Projektraum, a multidisciplinary space designed to provide an outlet for emerging talent.
Glenn Espinosa, by Glenn Espinosa of G. Holmes Braddock Senior High
Courtesy of YoungArts Foundation
9. YoungArts Gallery
2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
The youth is our future. A quick visit to the National YoungArts Foundation gallery space will prove that cliché true. The gallery exhibits the work of 15-to-18-year-old aspiring visual artists from South Florida, selected from a competitive pool of 12,000 entries. Each year, the exhibition space rotates visual art, photography, and design from talented high-school students. Works cover a broad range of mediums. Hannah Ali, a student at Design & Architecture Senior High, painted Eternal, an oil-on-canvas portrait interlacing images of her classmate's face with those of mountains. Zoe Elakman, a student at W. Dreyfood School of the Arts, designed Vol, a functioning jacket made of a mosaic of parrot feathers. The two-story exhibition space is filled with unique, refreshing, and sometimes unsettling pieces from young voices that should be heard.
To New York With Love (2009), four-color offset lithographs
Courtesy of Gallery Diet
8. Nina Johnson
6315 NW Second Ave., Miami
Formerly Gallery Diet, and owned by former president of the Wynwood Arts District Association Nina Johnson-Milewski, this was one of the first galleries in Wynwood when it opened in 2007. Last year, however, she joined the mass exodus of galleries to Little Haiti and bought a 1940s-era complex. The space is exhibiting Jonas Mekas' "Let Me Introduce Myself," the Miami debut of the seminal artist, filmmaker, and poet. It features three series of photographs from Mekas' body of work and a four-channel video installation. Guests are invited to sit on specially designed chairs as they watch The Destruction Quartet, which features New York disasters, including 9/11.
Sistema, by Franky Cruz
Photo by Alexandra Martinez
7. Spinello Projects
7221 NW Second Ave., Miami
Spinello Projects has been showcasing Miami-based work since 2005. The gallery supports and promotes using unorthodox and experimental practices. Its mission: to initiate fundamental changes in Miami’s visual landscape. As you enter through the back door, you're greeted by darkness. It is quiet inside. A spotlight casts a shadow on an obscure sculpture set on the floor. Being surrounded by Cara Despain's Slow Burn is atmospheric and meditative. Walk a little farther, and you'll find Franky Cruz's Sistema, a slug and caterpillar performance piece tracking their natural growth. Cruz has set up lights against milkweed plants, where caterpillars typically graze. The only piece missing are the butterflies — discarded cocoons mark their ascendance beyond the galleries' walls.
Guests ponder El Sexto's work during his opening night at Market Gallery.
Photo by Alexandra Martinez
6. Market Gallery
1420 Alton Rd., Miami Beach
Market Gallery has been around only since this past December, when it opened during Art Basel. Nestled in a shopping plaza next to a Cricket Wireless retailer, the South Beach gallery has already hosted one of the most bombastic shows this city has seen. Last week, the gallery closed out "Pork: El Sexto" a show featuring Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado Machado (AKA El Sexto). The opening night included elements of the show he intended to display when he was arrested Christmas Day 2014 in Cuba. Cuban rock band Porno Para Ricardo played psychedelic music as two live pigs painted with the names "Fidel" and "Raúl" were released into a wooden pen at the back of the gallery. Minutes later, Maldonado joined them in the pen. "Most people will die and no one will ever talk about them," Maldonado said mysteriously as he jumped onto the wooden gate. "But if I die today, all of you will remember me." He was later tattooed as part of a performance piece called Resistencia. The goal of the gallery is "to expose enticing pieces, give artists a home to say what they want." Point taken.
Spoken-word artist Rebecca Vaughns performs at N'Namdi Contemporary Gallery's exhibition "Artists for Black Lives Matter."
Photo by Alexandra Martinez
5. N'Namdi Contemporary Gallery
177 NW 23rd St., Miami
Jumaane N’Namdi, director of N’Namdi Contemporary Miami, recently hosted "Artists for Black Lives Matter (#a4blm)." The exhibition worked in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, confronting police brutality against people of color. Spoken-word artist Rebecca Vaughns, poet Marcus Blake, and others performed against a backdrop of a gripping large-scale installation composed of international and locally sourced interpretations of what Black Lives Matter means to those artists. Nicky Lopez, an activist, writer, and one of the curators of the show, wanted to honor the people who have been lost. N'Namdi was in the middle of another exhibit but readjusted to make sure Lopez and the movement could host their one-night-only show.
Photo by Alexandra Martinez
4. Laundromat Art Space
5900 NE Second Ave., Miami
An immediate pulse of uplifting energy hits you upon entering the Laundromat Art Space. The Artist Residency Program & Exhibition Space is presented by the Rise Up Gallery, a nonprofit that provides pro bono art therapy workshops to the community. David McCauley, artist and founder of Rise Up and Laundromat, in the summer of 2008 sustained a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down and limits the use of his hands. Since then, his work ranges from oil-on-paper to utilizing recycled skateboards to create mosaics into short, motivating words. His studio space is filled with positive messages shining onto the rest of the space. Loren Abbate's and George Goodridge's takes on the divinely feminine through two distinct yet colorful and thought-provoking series, Spirit B*tch*s Be Trippin', is currently on view.
Artist Chor Boogie paints Heiros Gamos outside Macaya Gallery.
Photo by Daniel Stanford
3. Macaya Gallery
145 NW 36th St., Miami
Macaya Gallery, owned by Haitian-Canadian art devotee, corporate lawyer, and artist at heart Patrick Glémaud, is a serene creative center. The ex-attorney fell in love with Miami after visiting for 14 years and finally decided to move here in 2014. He has since immersed himself in the world of curation — from a hobby grew what he calls the "purpose of his life." On view right now is "Heiros Gamos," a heartfelt exhibit channeling the mystic power of the feminine through Chor Boogie's colorful spray cans. The opening-night event featured the artist's wife, performance artist Elizabeth Bast, and her partner Lady Eternal Love. The two performed a burlesque piece followed by a ceremonial blessing using rose petals and their own celestial auras. A day before the exhibit opened, Macaya's pristine white walls served as a meditative space for Yogaveda's pop-up yoga class. The four-hour event included live DJs and chakra balancing.
PAAP prepares for its move to Little Haiti.
Courtesy of Pan American Art Projects
2. Pan American Art Projects
6300 NW Second Ave., Miami
Pan American Art Projects (PAAP) is getting ready to debut its latest show, "Paper Trail: Gustavo Acosta," in the gallery's new Little Haiti location. Acosta, who was born in Havana and raised in Miami, examines a sense of place and change through his examination of the two cities. The artist counterpositions images of Miami’s accelerated gentrification process with scenes of dilapidated buildings in Havana. One is constantly growing, the other stuck in time. As Little Haiti continues to subsume art galleries, PAAP's opening exhibit is purposely timely and appropriate. The show opens April 9 at noon with a cocktail reception that the artist will join at 4 p.m.
Courtesy of Yeelen Gallery
1. Yeelen Gallery
294 NW 54th St., Miami
Yeelen Gallery curator and owner Karla Ferguson was once a lawyer. She interned with the Innocence Project New Orleans, a nonprofit law office, which identifies and remedies wrongful conviction cases. Attorneys represent innocent prisoners serving life sentences and assist them with their transition into society upon their release. Ferguson has since looked toward the visual image as another way to counteract the "dehumanizing effects we've had over the past couple of centuries," she says. This weekend, Yeelen is gearing up to close "What's Inside Her Never Dies... A Black Woman's Legacy," a powerful exhibit that pays homage to the beauty and resiliency of the black woman. In December, the gallery hosted a panel featuring six prominent activists who share the grief of losing children as a direct result of racial profiling and violence from police. "Yeelen" in Bambara, a language spoken in Mali, means "brightness." The work exhibited at this important gallery is rooted in social and political context, consistently enlightening the mind while provoking the heart.