Off the Grid at Art Basel

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It’s raining today, so instead of taking my scooter down to Miami Beach’s Convention Center to see the booths at Art Basel, I hail a cab and go to Miami’s Wynwood Art District. I haven’t spent much time there in the past, but this year I get the urge to thoroughly explore the area.

There are many remarkable aspects to Wynwood: for instance, the way the district has commissioned muralists to freely decorate its public walls; the way it has brought together artists—both emerging and establishing—and collectors to an area once littered with neglected warehouses; the way its local shops and galleries, many now neighboring high-end retail brands, have thrived; the way it has gone from idea to inception in just a few short years. But the most remarkable element about Wynwood is that it seems to have given young artists a little more hope, or rather, a rare opportunity to show their works at a gallery and find out if they are ready to survive in today’s art world. This is important for two reasons. One is that it is an inspiring adventure for artists to present their work to the public and receive feedback. The other is that it can actually allow them to sell their pieces. Many Miami Art Week visitors, however, will not come to Wynwood. To be clear, I am not criticizing them. There is a lot to do during Art Week. No one, no matter how ambitious, can see it all. And although the Wynwood galleries are not neglected by the art world, they do seem to be an afterthought to the primary shows—Art Basel Miami Beach, Scope, Nada, Untitled—and extravagant parties. (A footnote: I was impressed by Bombay Sapphire’s Artisan Series Competition, a smartly curated party that exhibited some stunning works by Sean Michael Warren, along with other emerging artists.) But by immersing yourself in this bizarre scene, this quickly growing art district, where waiters may attempt to sell you their artwork after they list the day’s specials, you are able to witness youthful creativity firsthand. In fact, with many of the works you see here, the paint is still drying.

On the suggestion of a friend, we head over to 212 Gallery’s pop-up space tucked behind an unmakred Wynwood garage. Here, we meet Parsa Afsharjavan, 19, an artist who calls himself Sino. I watch Parsa hang a painting he plans to present at tonight’s 212 group show. The piece is called “The Four Frenchmen,” and the four men portrayed look like spiky-haired Basquiat characters. Once Parsa is satisfied with the display, he comes down off the forklift and briefly explains his artistic ethos. In a sentence, he’s an abstract painter who enjoys sketching “mystical creatures.” It’s easy to see that he has potential. He also has a delightfully strange sense of humor. Based on the  phrases he’s chosen to write on many of his canvases, it appears that he believes we are occupying his creatures’ reality. “It’s their world,” he writes, “we’re just living in it.”

As the day begins to ebb away, inside the gallery space, Parsa is putting the final touches on a mixed-media work he has decided to call “Rebellion.” Its composition is rather chaotic. He stands in front of it for the next few minutes, almost apprehensively, in his paint-splattered jacket, eyes fixed on the top right of the canvas. He wants to add something to “Rebellion,” and when my friends and I see what he’s about to do, there’s a bit of laughter. Still, he grabs the small Lego figurine on the floor, adds some glue to its feet, and places it in a cup fixed to the canvas. And I trust that when he turns to us all and says what he has to say, none of our reactions, whether enthusiastic or mocking, matter.

“I’ve got to have Chewie in there, man!”