As a youngster, Myra Wexler was something of a Coral Gables socialite. Her father, Irving, was president of Muzak South Florida. Her mother, Reva, was a community leader involved with the National Council of Jewish Women and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
“I had a standing appointment at J. Baldi’s hair salon on Miracle Mile when I was on the bar mitzvah circuit,” says Wexler, who later owned Red Road Kids Club in South Miami, a boutique that sold fancy clothes and fancy toys for fancy little people.
Fast-forward a few decades and Wexler, 64, finds herself part of a very different posse. She rolls with a crew of Wynwood-area artists. She defaces public property with stickers bearing an image of her face covered by a bandana. Go on Facebook and you’ll see photos of her throwing up gangsta signs.
In the ’hood, she’s known as Yo Momma. And when her babies go tagging or “weed bombing,” which involves turning overgrown patches the city won’t mow into Day-Glo gardens with spray paint, Momma doesn’t lecture. She gives props.
“I’ve never gone tagging or weed bombing. But the morning after, I’ve gone out with my peeps and taken pictures of their work,” says Wexler, an artist herself. She keeps a studio on Biscayne Boulevard and 69th Street, where she does collage work.
But her greatest role, perhaps, is as an art world gadfly. She’s a fixture at every art walk and gallery opening in town. She devotes her Facebook page to promoting the artists she befriends. And during season, she hosts a monthly networker for artists at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar called Musings with Myra.
Momma has become enough of an icon to warrant a show of portraits, caricatures and other renderings of her likeness by 25 Miami artists. A collaboration with photographer David Siqueiros, Yo Momma in the House is scheduled to open Sept. 19 at 12345 West Dixie Studio and Gallery.
“It’s never too late too have a happy childhood,” says Wexler, who retired from visual merchandising about eight years ago and lives in Hollywood with her 92-year-old mother. “When I’m home, I watch my mother in her La-Z-Boy all day and I think, ‘monkey see, monkey do.’ I didn’t want to be retired and just sitting there.
“That’s what drives me to come down to the ’hood most days. That and the fact that I’ve always believed in building community. I was born at St. Francis Hospital in Miami Beach. My parents met on New Year’s Eve, 1946, at the Orange Bowl Parade. I love all that I have witnessed Miami become.”
In December 2009, during Art Basel Miami Beach, Wexler got herself a ringside seat outside of Joey’s Italian Café at 2506 NW Second Ave., ground zero for the just-stirring art scene in the neighborhood, to report on Basel-related gallery shows, satellite fairs and general goings on for SocialMiami.com. The gig led to regular Jammin’ at Joey’s sessions, to which Wexler invited artists, gallerists and art patrons.
“I remember sitting there outside of Joey’s in 2009 and thinking about the colorful picture that was being painted. There was such an international array of people in the ’hood for Art Basel. I was so excited by what I saw as the start of a renaissance for Miami. It was clear that this was just the tip of the iceberg. That just fueled my imagination.”
A few months later, hanging at a fundraiser at the nearby Bakehouse Art Complex, she met a New York street artist named Nobody whose face was covered, bandit-style, by a bandana with the words “Art is my Weapon” printed on it.
“It occurred to me that art really is a weapon. It’s a weapon used to communicate, to give voice to all perspectives, to build community,” says Wexler, who instantly hit it off with Nobody. He helped her create her own street persona and let her appropriate his “Art is My Weapon” thing.
The white-haired Wexler found herself with instant street cred. But do the art world kids with tattoos and chopped hair that she pals around with wait until she’s on the way home to Hollywood before they really start partying?
“F--- no, man! They wait until I get there to start partying. Maybe at first, because of my age and my white hair, they perceive me as some elegant older person they have to watch themselves around. But I hit them with the f-bombs right away and it’s all good.
“That’s just how I do. But then I think, ‘Myra, do you have to be such a wise guy? Maybe if you were a little more demure you’d attract a hunk of burning love.’ But what can I say? I forgot to get married and have kids a long time ago.”
Now she has dozens of kids.
“She’s just one of the gang,” says Kerry McLaney, an artist who lives and works in Wynwood, aka The ’Wood. “She’s very open-minded She’s a connector. She likes to bring people together. And she is amassing an army of followers. I help her figure out Facebook. And I talked her into getting an iPhone. But I shot myself in the foot. Because then she had a million questions about the damned thing.”
Momma may still be playing catch up on the technology front, but she’s learned a thing or two about life — and she’s good at sharing those lessons with her homies.
“I try to give them advice that comes from love. The biggest advice is, show up. There’s a lot of depression in the art world. I’m all about making and delivering soup. There is so much self-doubt to the creative life. I encourage the kids not to take the critics so seriously, and to take the work day by day. I tell them it’s good to set goals, but don’t project the future.”
She’s more than just a cheerleader, says Arlys Raymond, executive director of Bakehouse, which provides affordable studio spaces to emerging artists.
“She has been an unwavering fan of the Bakehouse. Her presence, which is everywhere, is equivalent to an email blast for us. Everywhere she goes, she speaks so highly of us. That goes such a long way in bringing new people to our events. … Her vibrancy is infectious.”
Says Wexler: “Right now, this whole area of Miami feels kinda sorta like being in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris [in which Owen Wilson’s character time-travels to 1920s Paris and hangs out with Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, et al.]
“You look around and you’re surrounded by all of these creative people — artists, musicians, all of them working. We live in a time of chaos. But it’s in times of chaos that the arts flourish. It’s the humanities that keep us pushing the ball forward. It’s about ascension. And I’m so glad that I get to be part of the glue.”