For lovers of traditional and contemporary art from Latin America, ArteAmericas has become a darling by mixing big names such as Wifredo Lam and Carlos Cruz-Diez with emerging talent from around the hemisphere. The self-described "boutique fair" typically draws about 50 international and local galleries to the Miami Beach Convention Center, where visitors can discover more traditional museum-quality paintings and sculptures alongside the latest trends in multimedia and video installations. But in 2011, the fair tried spicing up its image with racier works such as dancing dildos and videos of swollen, glowing testicles courtesy of the Wynwood art space LMNT. Although crowds flocked to LMNT's stall to peek into a gold-painted mannequin's backside and observe themselves emerging through its digestive tract in one interactive opus, ArteAmericas' ninth installment soon turned excremental. During the weekend, a vandal scrawled the word shit on local artist Marco Vallela's series of abstract paintings, valued at $8,000. The paintings were removed from the exhibit after Miami Beach police investigated. Then ArteAmericas was in the news again for all the wrong reasons after Cuban painter Agustín Bejarano, who was in town exhibiting at the fair, was busted by Hialeah cops for allegedly sexually assaulting a 5-year-old boy. Let's hope 2012 puts the fair back on its path of celebrating the highlights of Latin American arts.

We have to admit to feeling some skepticism when Art Miami director Nick Korniloff announced a new stand-alone fair this past February so quickly on the tails of Art Basel. After all, the economy is stale, and who else besides the one-percenters can afford to buy art? But to everyone's surprise, when Art Wynwood opened on Presidents' Day weekend in midtown Miami during one of the busiest weeks of the season, the gambit paid off. Korniloff, who has steered the once-fading Art Miami back to relevancy during December art week, saw an opportunity in Wynwood. He believed he could create an international fair with homegrown appeal and persuaded local cultural leaders and institutions to back him. The inaugural edition of Art Wynwood featured 50 galleries from 13 countries, with nearly a quarter of the roster culled from Wynwood spaces. Decidedly edgier than its more sedate progenitor Art Miami, Art Wynwood boasted photography, painting, sculpture, video, installation, urban street art, and every conceivable contemporary genre by more than 500 international artists. It was held at Art Miami's sprawling 100,000-square-foot tent pavilion, where a crowd of about 5,000 collectors and culture vultures attended the event's VIP preview. More impressive, Coral Gables' Cernuda Arte reported $400,000 in sales during the five-day confab, while New York-based Westwood Gallery and London's Waterhouse & Dodd each saw their coffers enriched by transactions exceeding six figures. Not only did most of the participant local galleries boast windfall sales for undisclosed amounts, but also nearly every gallery and artist's studio in the neighborhood was overrun by close to 24,000 attendees. While some might scoff at Korniloff's assertion that Wynwood is challenging New York, local dealers' spiking sales at non-Basel fairs can only leave observers feeling optimistic about Miami's art future.

Three years ago, when Constance Collins Margulies hosted her first annual one-night fundraiser for the Lotus House Women's Shelter at her husband Marty Margulies's capacious art warehouse, little did she dream the event would spill out onto Wynwood's gritty streets to transform the surrounding landscape into a virtual playground for art lovers. The down-home art-happening-cum-charity-shindig transformed a stretch of NW Sixth Avenue between 23rd and 29th streets with multiple stages boasting live music, performances, vaudeville acts, buskers, and impromptu, percussion-led parades by local talent such as the Magic City's FriendsWithYou during the spirited three-day extravaganza. Supported by major museums and more than 30 local galleries and artist spaces from across the 305, the fundraising fair collected upward of $500,000 over the weekend. Everywhere during a postcard-perfect South Florida weekend in October, young families and their children observed and made art in interactive exhibits to support the women of Lotus House, trying to break the bonds of dependency through the uplifting spirit of art.

From evoking the slow-drip symphony of a summer shower with an array of suspended buckets to creating paintings using a torrential downpour in her native Brazil, Rivane Neuenschwander's first museum survey enchanted Miami Art Museum visitors through its beguiling and interactive nature. "A Day Like Any Other" featured 11 major works created over the past decade. In them, Neuenschwander, a storyteller with an eye for the cinematic, explored themes of time's fleeting nature and concepts of mapping, measuring, trading, and categorization. At once poetic and haunting, her works included dreamy constellations conjured by using a hole puncher on literary classics as well as an Orwellian installation based on a '70s Francis Ford Coppola thriller that riffed on notions that Big Brother is alive and well. Adding a palpable noirish feel to the engaging exhibit, Neuenschwander even recruited a forensic artist from the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, who collaborated with MAM visitors to re-create memories of their first flames. The result was a gallery filled with portraits of perps guilty of breaking hearts.

If you found yourself in the Design District this past Art Basel, you might have stumbled across one of Domingo Castillo's street posters supposedly advertising a missing cat but actually leading to an alternative space, Dimensions Variable. Castillo created the poster as part of the exhibition "G-Spot: Get the Green Light," which highlighted Miami's rising talent during December's citywide arts confab. Castillo's cat was just one of the red herrings that fill the inscrutable artist's works. At Dimensions Variable, the 23-year-old set up a makeshift karaoke bar for an exhibit titled "Duets." But unless you personally knew Castillo or were the guest of one of his friends, your dreams of joining him on the microphone for a rendition of "Cat's in the Cradle" were dashed. In fact, spectators outside the gallery were the ones who truly got to experience the spirit of the art, which was in fact a commentary on the exclusivity of Basel. Castillo is also one of the founders behind the End/Spring Break, a nomadic art project responsible for some of the quirkiest and most thought-provoking cultural programming in the Big Mango the past year.

In Djanet Sears's racially and sexually charged Harlem Duet, Christina Alexander of the M Ensemble portrayed Billie, a woman scorned by her man and betrayed by her mind. While dealing with her husband Othello leaving her for his white co-worker, Billie's mind is in constant flux, unstable and deteriorating, while an uneasiness in her perspective on race throughout the years simmers beneath the surface. A character this complex and layered demands an actress to walk the fine line of sanity and lunacy, of love and hate, and of grace and rage. With her malleable expressions and darting, vulnerable eyes, Alexander was able to capture perfectly the delicate balance of Billie's perception of Othello's betrayal — not just that he left her, but that he left her for an intellectually equal white woman — while confronting him with her own viewpoints on interracial relationships. She deftly allowed Billie's psychosis to seep in gradually, staying even-keeled when confronting Othello, even as she wrestled with her personal demons in solitude, while plotting her revenge. A richly drawn character such as Billie demands versatility, and Alexander's portrayal was a delicate balance of sincerity and maddening rejection.

Best International Arts Project by Locals

Kulturpark

At an abandoned amusement park in the former German Democratic Republic, weeds cover roller coasters, and an orchard of colossal toppled, graffitied dinosaur statues is reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The surreal landscape is a model playground for artists to explore, and to Miami's Anthony Spinello and Agustina Woodgate, the "Kulturpark" represented the ideal public art project. It was also a perfect vehicle to launch South Florida talent onto the international stage. The local duo joined forces with Elsewhere Collaborative's George Scheer and Stephanie Sherman to transform the dilapidated East Berlin landmark into a sustainable, cultural gathering place overflowing with art. The organizers were joined by a collaborative team of more than 30 Berlin and U.S.-based creative types — including several hailing from the 305 — in the ambitious undertaking. They raised funds for the project and are planning a program for New World School of the Arts students to visit the site and have recruited the folks behind the Magic City's own End/Spring Break to weigh in with an experimental radio program as part of Radio Espacio Estacion, Woodgate's online radio platform for the multiculti swap. Don't be surprised if these art-scene ambassadors soon return with plans to invite their Berlin cohorts to leave their marks on our side of the Atlantic.

Here's the funny thing about arts in Miami: As the scene expands, it becomes harder and harder to break in as a new talent. After all, the more artists there are in this city, the more people are competing for attention. Much like Survivor, if you don't have an alliance, you're likely to get voted off the island. So RAW: Natural Born Artists did the arts community a solid when it launched in May. "My responsibility is to find great artists to represent Miami," spokesperson Rosana Emanuelli says. "It is going to be a little bit of everything." Everything, in this case, includes visual art, as well as music, fashion, film, hair, makeup, and performance art. And that's not because RAW organizers were too flighty to narrow things down. (Well, maybe it was in part — they are creative types, after all.) The group's inaugural event, which took over Design District nightclub the Stage in May, boasted musical performances by the Dude and the Deadly Blank, live painting by Floyd the Rock Artist, body art by Stay Sea Love and Pamela Trent, and art exhibits on just about every wall in the place. And nearly all of it was for sale or hire on site, providing the artists with the one thing all artists need: a marketplace. As perks of joining an arts alliance go, it doesn't get any better than that.

What makes Ruben Ubiera so special? He eschews traditional canvases for urban-associated items such as the sides of buildings, skateboards, and scrapped wooden fencing. But then, so do a lot of painters. The difference is that his work gives a touch of humanity to city corners that would look otherwise desolate. His signature tag isn't just a name scrawled in spray paint; it's the combination of his inimitable style and unexpected subject matter (think giant gorillas). This artist's work is one part graffiti art and one part classical illustration fused with plenty of Miami soul. Born in the Dominican Republic, Ubiera came to South Florida by way of New York City to attend the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale on a full scholarship. His career as an artist began traditionally, rather than in the DIY manner of most street artists. But his vision of Miami through overlapping abstractions and collages is more at home on the sides of Wynwood's buildings and in the neighborhood's lesser-known art fairs than in traditional art spaces. In the sterility of a gallery, his work reads like the work of a graphic novelist surveying Miami one portrait at a time. And that's cool and all. But it's best viewed within the world that inspired it, where the imperfections of the raw wood and 3-D effect of the skateboards he paints complement their surroundings, and vice versa. It's street-inspired art that, in a way, inspires the street itself.

Florida Grand Opera

Social media innovations. Flash mobs. Wynwood Second Saturday Art Walk performances. They sound like the attention-getting tactics of a young start-up arts collective. But the cultural organization that's making the biggest push for new audiences this year isn't a new one. In fact, it's been around for 71 seasons. It's Florida Grand Opera. FGO wants your ass in its audience, and it's going to great lengths to achieve it. In February, the opera's performers infiltrated Miami International Airport as part of the Knight Foundation's Random Acts of Culture. Dressed in plain clothes, they emerged from café lines and waiting areas to perform six times at gates throughout the terminals, to the delight of travelers who otherwise had nothing but stale coffee and flight delays to look forward to. FGO followed that spectacle with an announcement that was truly uncharacteristic, especially for an artistic medium as traditional as opera: The company was offering special seating at its shows for patrons who wanted to be able to use their cell phones, tablets, and other electronic devices during the performance. Tech-obsessed culture seekers could geek out to their hearts' content, sharing photos, tweeting, and even live-blogging from the shows themselves. Next came FGO's performances at the Dorsch Gallery during Second Saturday Art Walk in April, a showcase designed to appeal to an unlikely audience — hipsters. The Dorsch was packed for every performance that night. In an arts community as rapidly evolving as Miami's, innovative ideas are the only thing that'll hold anyone's interest for long.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®