My first impressions of Wynwood were of urban blight. My husband ran a gallery he called ism-gallery starting in 2007 for a year or so. I got out of the car for the first time in Wynwood and saw a young, brown-skinned transvestite coming towards us on the sidewalk. He was in a state of partial undress and made no eye-contact. I remember something pink and sensed a bottomless despondence that broke my heart.
At that time, there were galleries opening all around the neighborhood, but many lots were completely abandoned and strewn with trash. Men were staring down at us from the roof of the Miami Rescue Mission building on the corner of 21st and 1st Ct, mockingly, I always thought. An auto-body shop seemed to use the entire street as its daytime storage place. Many walls bore elaborate graffiti.
The other side of the duplex we were renting housed a gallery run by young, upper class Mexican brothers, one of whom was a photographer. The courtyard of our building was enchanted compared to the concrete jungle outside. A large tree provided shade. The yard was completely walled in. One corner had bushes and flowers where my 3-year old could catch lizards. A statue of Saint Lazarus stood in a corner. He was stolen in the next few weeks. I sat in a plastic chair, uneasily, watching my 1-year old in his stroller.
The streets were dirty. Questionable characters often passed by, eyeing us with as much suspicion as we eyed them. During 2nd Saturdays, the police would patrol, and I wondered whether they came when someone here had a domestic disturbance, or when a young transvestite was being raped, or whether they showed up only to protect this white crowd attracted to the emerging art scene.
During the art walk, parking was still easy to find, and nobody had to fight a crowd to get from gallery to gallery. But high heels provided a hazard. Many sidewalks were broken and there were holes in the streets. Most galleries offered complimentary wine, and there was the occasional promotional liquor giveaway. After artwalk, plastic cups and cigarette buds would be piled on top of dumpsters (which were few and far between) as well as on any visible ledge, like window sills or large concrete lamp post bases. Bouquets of beer bottles would decorate many corners and the front of empty lots. Broken glass crunched under feet. The contrast between the art-walk’s well-dressed, fashionable, young professionals with their plastic wine glasses and the grit all around was startling.
We exhibited local artists Nestor Arenas whose works are photos of scenes he builds featuring road kill and plastic figurines; Angel Vapor, a gifted and classically trained painter and sculptor; and Tebelio Diaz, my husband’s Cuban-born painter and multi-media artist father whose subject at the time was migration by sea. My husband recruited artists from abroad: Ana Pimental (from Brazil) whose works contrasted colors and patterns that reminded one of crocheted table-clothes and wall-coverings with cartoon characters with exaggerated eyes; Serge Lis (Russia) sent kinky photos, and Richmodis DM (Germany) brought her deep, disturbing artworks reflecting on womanhood and the relationship between man and woman. The shows were put together with an aesthetic sensitive to light and space and respect for the artwork. Meanwhile, much better known galleries featured huge pink artworks by a well-respected artist that looked like he put the works together in a hurry, and many places jammed so much artwork into their space that it looked more like a flea-market than an art-space.
The early crowd usually included a middle-aged generation, seriously interested in art. The later crowd tramped through the gallery in search of the booze, which we provided in the back courtyard. But we sold nothing and lived on a teacher’s salary. We closed up shop a little over a year later.