The first ever Wynwood Art Fair this past weekend reminded me of one of the early incarnations of the Coconut Grove Art Festival. But rather than stalls filled with ceramics, macramé, and watercolor landscapes, this eye-popping affair boasted bleeding-edge art everywhere.
The weather was postcard-perfect and on Sunday, young families pushing strollers and walking their dogs flocked to the stretch of NW 6th Avenue between 23rd and 29th streets in droves.
There were processions of zany, mask-clad performance artists blowing kazoos, vaudeville street dancers, and a percussion-led, giant balloon parade by Miami's own FriendsWithYou.
When they marched past me in full regalia, drums pounding, I got caught up in the spirited hijinks and joined the conga line carrying my three-pound sidechick, Motica, aloft as we boogied down the street with the crowd.
The atmosphere was energetic and the sense of community was palpable. The event transcended the audience one typically encounters during the Second Saturday art crawl and drew both art lovers and the curious to the fundraiser benefitting the Lotus House Woman's Shelter in Wynwood. It was a smashing success.
Kids and adults alike skipped for blocks over Agustina Woodgate's winding game of hopscotch that by Sunday afternoon numbered over a thousand squares.
Another attraction that drew attention from families was a hilariously subversive installation by Gorilla Tacticks. The collaborative of New World grads, created an 8-foot-square plywood box with scenes of elementary school life painted on each of the four panels inside.
One interior wall depicted a student getting an F on his test, another his teacher pointing at the classroom door and sending the poor tyke to detention. The characters had holes in their heads and kids outside the wooden box stood upon milk crates and mugged at each other from across the walls. The most popular perch was the scene depicting four schoolyard bullies delivering a thrashing to the kid who failed the test. Groups of giggling children and their parents lined up to take pictures of them whacking the poor boob.
Another magnet for the sandbox set was Carol Jazzar's dizzying booth plastered in geometric amoeba shapes and arranged in a labyrinthine maze, which tykes ran around and around in until they emerged addled by contemporary art.
Most of the dealers and cultural organizations that took booths at the fair donated 100 percent of the funds they raised to Lotus House like Anthony Spinello who had a pop-up space in which he and volunteers sewed limited edition poetry labels into clothes as part of Agustina Woodgate's "Tagging Project."
Other spaces like Little Havana's Cremata Fine Arts, which hung their booth with works for sale by Humberto Castro and Guillermo Portieles, where left scratching their heads when no sales materialized over the weekend during which they missed the boat and spirit of the affair.
By Sunday afternoon, the Gallery Diet booth had been converted into a treasure trove of trash by New World students Sebastian Duncan Portuondo and Chad Cunha who created a "living painting" from garbage the pair collected from the neighborhood. Around 2 p.m. a passerby lifted a pole with a ball of concrete on the end and smashed it into a TV set at the bottom of the installation while crowds cheered.
Up the street, kids were busy chewing gum and sticking the colored wads on a sheet of Plexiglas as traffic roared by on the freeway behind them. It was part of Niizeki Hiromi's interactive "Gum Garden" piece.
Shortly after, FriendsWithYou led the closing day balloon parade sponsored by the de la Cruz Collection. Their high-wattage procession included 30 volunteers from the Design and Architecture Senior High School.
Another group that got the crowds dancing in the street was Boise Bob and his country-fried Backyard Band.
Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares plowed through a wall of books in a performance called Job Creation in a Bad Economy, to close the first chapter of the Wynwood Art Fair. Wright, who was one of the co-curators of the three-day event, definitely delivered the goods.
Perhaps what most impressive was to see so many families enjoying contemporary art, and enthusiastically embracing the edginess of the fair.
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You can never start building audiences too early. And given the unbridled glee on the faces of the hundreds of kids romping through the event it wouldn't surprise if some of them turned up in future bumper crops of South Florida art stars. This was a great start to what would make a great addition to our yearly cultural calendar.
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