Miami: Then & Now
By Tom Austin (Nightlife); by sondra schneider (neighborhoods); by brett sokol (culture)
Eva Mendes, JR and Loren Ridinger, Roberto Cavalli and Paulina Rubio at the Ridingers' party celebrating New Year's, 2000
If the revival of a derelict neighborhood is one of the markers of a real city, Miami earned its chops with MiMo. The neighborhood—best known for its seedy motels that studded the stretch of Biscayne Boulevard between 50th and 79th streets—was so undesirable that when Mark Soyka bought the former 55th Street Station and opened his eponymous restaurant in 1999, most people thought he had gone insane. Today, with landmark status for its collection of Miami Modern architecture, MiMo is an eclectic mix of boutiques and acclaimed restaurants such as Michy’s and Red Light.
Ten years ago, about the only one who believed that the empty, sun-baked streets of the Design District would turn around was Craig Robins, who bought up huge swaths of the area. The leafy neighborhood of designer shops, showrooms and restaurants he envisioned has come to pass, and some of the city’s best dining options are located there, like Fratelli Lyon, Pacific Time, Sra. Martinez and, of course, Michael’s Genuine, which led the way for the culinary reinvention of the neighborhood.
Downtown and Brickell comprises almost too large a district to be termed a “neighborhood,” but their futures are intertwined. With the building up of Brickell Key and the addition of several new towers on Brickell Avenue, the area finally reached the density to get the long-promised Mary Brickell Village and the retail component it sorely lacked. As for downtown, the addition of a few new luxury towers (including Related’s Icon Brickell and the Epic Hotel), the Arsht Center and the promised Museum Park has been a shot in the arm, but the area still has a way to go. Perhaps we’ll see a completely different vibe there by 2020.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Miami art scene suddenly sprung into existence with the 2002 arrival of the Art Basel fair. It’s not that talented, boundary-breaking artists haven’t always called Miami home. But for decades, living in South Florida and having a viable artistic career here were mutually exclusive options. As far back as 1966, Miami Dade College sculpture professor Duane Hanson was making waves around town with his topically charged, eerily lifelike dioramas—and finding himself subsequently locked out of his campus studio by outraged administrators. Frustrated by similarly conservative responses from local curators and collectors, Hanson soon decamped to New York City—where within a few years of arriving he was rewarded with critical raves, enthusiastic sales and a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Such was the pattern for years to come: If a Miamian wanted to earn a living as a contemporary artist, a U-Haul and a drive north were a part of his or her future.
It’s hardly an exaggeration to say Basel—and its accompanying cultural circus—changed everything. True, there had been a brief flurry of national attention in the ’90s around a fresh crop of Cubanexile painters. And the tail end of that era also saw a handful of plucky pioneers sinking roots into the bleakly industrial Wynwood neighborhood: Manhattanites Mera and Don Rubell reversed the travel pattern, winging south and plunking their sprawling art collection inside a 45,000-square-foot former DEA warehouse; artists Westen Charles, Cooper and Elizabeth Withstandley transformed a onetime crackhouse into Locust Projects, a vibrant, nonprofit alternative space; art dealer Brook Dorsch moved in from Coral Gables, cleaned out yet another crackhouse, and then hung out his gallery’s shingle.
photographs by seth browarnik (miami) manny hernandez (miami, mendes); seth browarnik/red eye production (jackson); Dacra (moore building)