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Selling Out vs. Moving On Up

October 7, 2011

(Another piece I had written for Open Media Miami)

Whether talking about gentrification or “selling out” there’s always a fine line to be walked when it comes to transforming something with seemingly little value into something popular and marketable. Artists have always presented a good opportunity to examine this principle. You have countless examples to choose from of struggling/starving artists who make it big and then become a household name. The question is at what point do we stop congratulating the artist on being recognized for their talent and start berating them for leaving their values behind in order to make a quick buck? This argument is a perfect one to have while sitting at the Wynwood Walls because it so clearly presents both the pros and cons of each side. On one hand, the walls represent the epitome of “South Beach-ification”, the exploitation of something that was once pure (in spirit if not in appearance), specifically for the sake of turning a profit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way arguing against making money; I’m totally for making money. I just think that when it comes to art or creative outlets in general, we need to make every effort to preserve the spirit that initially spurred the conception.

Someone like Shepard Fairey who makes it big after years of grinding on the street putting up stickers and taking risks to get his work seen is A-OK in my book. Take the other side of the spectrum, someone like Britto who has pretty much been tailoring his work to commercialization from day one and I have to admit to at least a minimal amount of disgust. So the (quite possibly literally) million dollar question when it comes to Wynwood Walls then becomes: Is it a place where artists are given their chance to shine and have their work viewed by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people? Or is it a distraction meant only to draw the crowds into the neighboring restaurants and gallery (you know, that one that’s had the same works on exhibit up for months and months). And the new developments in the works for the upcoming Basel season, documented here by Miami New Times, doesn’t really clarify the issue since for almost every mention of new walls that will be getting facelifts there’s also news of some kind of venture tied to them (i.e. pop up stores, galleries etc.). At the end of the day the space will evolve into its next incarnation, pushed and pulled in different directions by investors and visitors alike, and we’ll just have to wait and see where it ends up.

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