Maybe the most surprising thing about Wynwood and it’s inhabitants is how seriously they take the entire situation. When I went there, I was expecting something much more tame, something overdeveloped and precious and planned. What I found was just much more organic. The people I saw seemed genuine, if a little twee, and the area itself looked grown, as opposed to created. I quite frankly have never in my life seen a place that uninhibited. Even now, as I look back, I am struck by how genuine the art looked and felt. There were handtags over expressive murals, different disciplines all smashed up against each other in such a small area. I would personally recommend that anyone form anywhere come and see this place at least once, if only to verify if what I had seen was really as good as I thought.
Although the most striking thing about the place might be the art on the walls, I’d say that the best place to start would be a description of he architecture and geography of Wynwood. According to wikipedia, the area used to be a bastion for Puerto Rican Imigrants about five decades ago. The look of the place agrees with this information. The buildings are squat, short, and kind of dumpy. It is reminiscent of the rest of the state actually, everything is low to the ground, most signs are painted on. If you’ve ever driven through a working class or ghetto neighborhood in south Florida, you’d have a good idea. There are very few Art Deco influences, which helps the genuine aura of the place. It seems like the place could have been lived in by completely normal people with blue collar jobs. Nothing much feels pretentious, in this way at least.
If the architecture is plain but effective, the art is quite the opposite. Dense, graphic, and ubiquitous, the various sketches and paintings and murals one can find around Wynwood are honestly impressive. Things look painted over and nearly all space is used to end a message or make you feel a specific way. There’s stencils of weird, vaguely propagandized sayings and tags all over the sidewalk. In addition to that, there’s plenty of hand style graffiti and simple stencils all over the place that reflect a sort of guerrilla attitude towards art. Often these little details serve to remind you that you’re in a city and not a playground or art exhibit. There are also larger pieces that are just people’s handles, but are done in an elaborate classical 90′s graffiti style that might remind you of a Wu Tan or NWA music video. It made me give pause and wonder exactly what type of people were spending their time putting their brains and hearts up on the walls.
On the other end of the art spectrum, there were more graphic illustrations that you might possibly consider finding in an edition of Juxtapose magazine. It was all what I personally would consider street inspired, but the detail and variety was surprising. People used all sorts of influences in coming up with these pieces. There was of course you’re typical Superflat influenced Paprika style illustrations in one place, but another would have something you wouldn’t really expect at all. According to the website, popular artists like Shepard Farely and Ryan McGuinness contributed to a lot of what you see walking down the street in Wynwood. This is readily apparent by the quality displayed by some of these pieces. But what is really compelling about the entire thing is how many different styles and skill levels you can find. Although I’m sure this definitely is not the case, it kind of looks like they just let people go wild, and everything is that much better for it.
Of course, there are also art galleries and stores that are just as interesting. I personally didn’t have time to go into all of them, but I did see a few. I have no idea how a lot of these places were keeping their doors open, considering how little people I saw actually buying stuff. Sure, one could purchase a nice multimedia panting for around fifteen hundred dollars, but they didn’t exactly look like they were flying off the shelves, and the patrons of the art galleries didn’t look that rich to begin with. One could find all sorts of novelty stores selling your typically novelty items that appeal only to people who would describe themselves as “quirky” without irony. They also have weird places that sell odd things that don’t appeal to me in the slightest but seem to be perfectly accepted by the community.
I’m still not quite sure how all of the art galleries sustain themselves, but at least the coffee house seemed busy. Panther coffee is an interesting but not very appropriate name for the place, mostly due to the fact that it’s just so easygoing and laid back. The line stretched out the door into the parking lot, and the menu was rather obtusely only visible at the counter. For some odd reason they stored all of their food products in an attic that was directly above the bathroom. I wasn’t worried about cleanliness, but the optics of the situation were problematic. This was alleviated by the cappuccino I had, which was really delicious. I feel as I the little heart patterns done in creme helped, sort of like how flames decals on cars make them go faster.
The coffee shop gave me a good vantage point to start observing the people of Wynwood. It seemed to me like these were just normal Miami people only better hydrated, a little younger, and dipped in a thin layer of hipster. If people outside of Wynwood wore pre-distrested jeans, these people were wearing the skinny, straight indigo version. If someone else would be wearing a typical t shirt, they’d be wearing an American Apparel v-neck. Still, most people looked about as one would expect. Not very much eclecticism apparent in how the people looked that way. I saw a pretty decent mix of different ethnicities, with the average leaning towards white or white Hispanic. I didn’t feel out of place at all though, which is not normal in a place where people know who Arcade Fire is.
Unfortunately, I only got to talk to a couple of people during my time there, mostly cashiers, but I did get to eavesdrop to my satisfaction. I heard some people talk about normal city stuff, and others whisper about gluten free this or that. One lady in front of me mentioned DJ Shadow and Jamie XX, and I briefly considered going out with her. I noticed that when some people talked they gave the hipster smoldering look and smirk combo. It’s nearly impossible to describe, but I’ll try. It’s this sort of limp-wristed looks that tries to indicate that the speaker is basically aware of everything that could have possible happened in the cultural underground and she expects you to know as well. It’s like they’re all kinda bored with the current conversation before they’ve even really finished. The inhabitants of Wynwood give this look and talk in this manner so often I feel as if the may all just have a common ancestor, and they were just born this way. It’s as if they are all in on a joke that I was completely unaware of.
I often got the look from people trying to sell me stuff, normally after they realized that I was actually going to buy stuff. Perhaps at that point I was considered part of the in group. It was Saturday in between lunch and dinner when I came, so a lot of the stores weren’t open, or at least weren’t expecting anyone. There was a wedding going on somewhere, however. A perfectly non bohemian looking couple who took Pictures near the Wynwood Walls place, where a group of people were sitting, standing, hipster-smirking, and eating elaborate gastronomic pub food that looked delectable and way to expensive. At some point a very cute lady tried to sell my vinyl stickers in a place called Kawaii Universe. I feel that if I were to return to Wynwwod with significantly more money and an ironic mustachio, I would maybe have the time of my life.
The general aura the Wynwood gives, at least on a superficial level, is like walking through the sketchbook of a girl who looks up to Summer from 500 Days of Summer, or Clementine from Eternal Sunshne of a Spotless Mind. On a deeper level, the district puts itself on display in a way that no other place I’ve ever been to does. The whole place exists to show you something, but not necessarily in a very structured way. Even though all of the art is very striking, the intention is for you to come to it, rather than it coming to you. Although this may sound extreme, Wynwood is a gifted place, one that actually exuded verisimilitude without tripping off one’s BS sensors. I would recommend that nearly anyone check the area out, even if only to avoid having to pay for Art Basel.