Mi­ami Nice

Once no­to­ri­ous for its party scene, glitz and tan lines, the city is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an artis­tic re­vival.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - DECEMBER - Words DAVID SMIEDT

Florida’s party cap­i­tal re­veals its re­fined side, with a new-found fo­cus on art and cul­ture.

SURE, YOU CAN slurp daiquiris on Ocean Drive from a bowl the size of a bap­tismal font. Yes, you can live out your Don John­son Mi­ami Vice fan­tasies in linen blaz­ers with your sleeves pushed up, or twerk it ’til sun­rise to Latin-in­fused beats that make your hips move in strange and in­ter­est­ing ways. But to stop there would be do­ing both Mi­ami and your­self a se­ri­ous dis­ser­vice.

In re­cent years, the good­time gal of a town that was al­ways up for one more round and yet an­other spring break has de­vel­oped a new cul­tural di­men­sion that is blos­som­ing. Much of this is due to Art Basel, the mam­moth, highly in­flu­en­tial con­tem­po­rary art fair which ex­panded to Florida in 2002. The 2018 event, which runs from 6–9 De­cem­ber, in­cludes 200 gal­leries and

4000 artists from around the globe. While some se­ri­ous buy­ing and sell­ing takes place, it’s also open to art lovers who just come to view, with pub­lic ac­cess start­ing from around

USD$50 ($70) a day. When the show is in town, the place morphs into one enor­mous in­stal­la­tion with sculp­tures, murals, por­traits and land­scapes vy­ing for your eye. Ditto an in­flux of peo­ple who may or may not be Ban­sky and can’t go a sen­tence with­out us­ing the word ‘post­mod­ern’.

What re­mains in Mi­ami when Art Basel packs up has grown ex­po­nen­tially year on year into a pow­er­house. In fact, the city now has all the clout of New York or Los An­ge­les, but none of the peer­ing-over-the-rim-of-ironic-eye­wear pre­tence. Per­haps it’s best to start with the city’s most en­dur­ing fea­ture — the Art Deco ar­chi­tec­ture.

Right now, South Beach is awash with re­stored three- or four-storey build­ings whose lush geom­e­try and stream­lined shapes daz­zle by day and are thrown into sexy sil­hou­ettes by night. Can a build­ing be sexy? Damn straight it can in Mi­ami. Col­lec­tively known as the Mi­ami Beach Ar­chi­tec­tural District, the area is on the US Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places and com­prises 960 stun­ning struc­tures, each of which could be host­ing a Ri­hanna mu­sic video shoot or film noir sub­terfuge at any given mo­ment.

While you’re in the South Beach ’hood, be sure to drop into The Bass mu­seum of art. You’ll know it by the tee­ter­ing Mi­ami Moun­tain sculp­ture by Ugo Rondi­none on the front lawn that re­sem­bles a tower of gi­ant neon nougat. In­side, things are just as strik­ing with a ro­tat­ing col­lec­tion of works that chal­lenge the no­tions of what art is in 2018. And no, your kid couldn’t do that.

But here’s the thing: if you want to get the best, fresh­est and spici­est of Mi­ami, move away from the beach. Take the MacArthur Cause­way and head in­land. Make your first stop the De­sign District, which is clus­tered around the Wyn­wood Walls project. The brain­child of the late Tony Gold­man, the ven­ture trans­formed a ram­bling as­sort­ment of win­dow­less ware­houses into a for­mi­da­ble col­lec­tion of graf­fiti and street art. By turns cheeky, play­ful, po­lit­i­cal and provoca­tive, it has be­come the an­chor of a com­mu­nity that has the feel of a Brook­lyn to Man­hat­tan or a New­town to Syd­ney CBD.

Get there early in the day or, bet­ter yet, early in the week as tour buses are be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly com­mon sight in this faux-ho neigh­bour­hood. For now it re­mains a low-key haunt where art is pre­sented with­out any of the stuffi­ness that stalks ‘proper’ gal­leries such as shush­ing at­ten­dants.

You know that a lo­cale is gen­tri­fy­ing quick when an Ae­sop store opens there — and right now the strip along NW 2nd Av­enue is an en­tic­ing com­bi­na­tion of art and com­merce with ev­ery­thing from prints and ar­ti­san ices to killer menswear and proper cof­fee; try small-batch roast­ing Pan­ther Cof­fee. On the same street you’ll find Walt Grace Vin­tage, a gui­tar em­po­rium and vin­tage garage that takes the con­cept of

THIS PAGE South Beach Art Deco ar­chi­tec­ture. OP­PO­SITE PAGE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP The Bass mu­seum of art; Azu­car Ice Cream Com­pany at Lit­tle Ha­vana; The COMO Metropoli­tan; an an­tique Ford Thun­der­bird parked on Ocean Drive. OPENER Mi­ami is fa­mous for its amaz­ing beaches.

The good-time gal of a town that was al­ways up for one more round has de­vel­oped a new cul­tural di­men­sion that is blos­som­ing.

the man cave to ridicu­lously ex­trav­a­gant lev­els — just in case you hap­pen to have a lazy $100,000 to drop on a Spring Mist Green 1956 Ford Thun­der­bird with just over 10,000 kilo­me­tres on the clock and the most pris­tine restora­tion this side of Ry­dell High’s auto shop. It’s the per­fect palate cleanser if you’re trav­el­ling with some­one suf­fer­ing gallery/cul­ture fa­tigue and who thinks Keith Har­ing was a New Zealand crick­eter.

A short Uber ride away is the Pérez Art Mu­seum Mi­ami, af­fec­tion­ately known as the PAMM. It spe­cialises in 20th- and 21st-cen­tury art with a dis­tinct Latin and South Amer­i­can bent. An ex­hibit that’s sure to give Aus­tralian vis­i­tors pause for thought is Hew Locke’s For Those in Peril on the Sea, which fea­tures a myr­iad of scaled down sus­pended ves­sels and charts the area’s his­tory of im­mi­gra­tion and refugees. There are also free tours of the mu­seum ev­ery day ex­cept Wed­nes­days.

On this side of the Cause­way, it’s also manda­tory to ex­plore the ‘Lit­tles’ — Lit­tle Ha­vana and Lit­tle Haiti. The Cuban neigh­bour­hood is one of the city’s most vi­tal. Hit up the stretch of Calle Ocho from SW 12th to SW 16th Av­enue for a cof­fee that will power you through jet lag and be­yond. Fill up on ropa vieja (shred­ded beef cooked with gar­lic, onions, bell pep­pers, wine and tomato sauce) at the land­mark Cuban restau­rant Ver­sailles and, if you can swing it, ar­range to be in town for the last Fri­day of each month when the Viernes Cul­tur­ales kicks off. This street party/cul­tural cel­e­bra­tion/arts fes­ti­val in­cludes free walk­ing tours, mu­sic you can’t help but dance to and lo­cal art gems. For some­thing a lit­tle more struc­tured, Mi­ami Culi­nary Tours does a Lit­tle Ha­vana food-tast­ing ex­cur­sion that in­cludes a bevvy at the in­fa­mous Ball & Chain wa­ter­ing hole and guava pastelitos at the Yisell Bak­ery.

Lit­tle Haiti, an area that got its name through play­ing host to a wave of im­mi­grants in the 1980s, is some­what less de­vel­oped and a lit­tle rougher around the edges. Which means there’s all the more rea­son to go there be­fore it gets Star­bucked. The food is sub­lime — any­where you see goat curry on a menu or­der it im­me­di­ately. A slew of in­de­pen­dent gal­leries mi­grated here from Wyn­wood when the rent got too ex­pen­sive (&Gallery and Laun­dro­mat Art Space are par­tic­u­larly good) and Gramps is a cosy bar with just the right amount of dive.

Just don’t be ask­ing for a daiquiri from a bowl the size of a bap­tismal font. You’re in the real Mi­ami now.

GET­TING THERE VIR­GIN AUS­TRALIA OF­FERS FLIGHTS TO MI­AMI WITH ITS CODESHARE PART­NER DELTA AIR LINES. TO BOOK, VISIT WWW. VIRGINAUSTRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUS­TRALIA).

FROM THIS IM­AGE Art Basel has brought a new sense of cul­ture to Mi­ami Beach; look for the open air fruit stands at Lit­tle Ha­vana.

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