In Miami’s Wynwood district, the party has overtaken the art

First there was the woman who sat down in the middle of the gallery and spilled her drink on the floor. Then there was another woman who snuck into the gallery’s parking garage, her pants halfway pulled down, desperately looking for a bathroom.

But what made Pan American Art Projects Director Janda Wetherington decide to stop participating in Wynwood’s Second Saturday Art Walks was when someone spilled wine onto a $15,000 painting, then bailed before anyone noticed.

“By that point, we had already stopped offering wine or water to people who came into the gallery, and we even had someone guarding the door to make sure no one brought any food or drink inside,” Wetherington said. But even that tactic failed. “That’s when we started opening earlier in the afternoon on Second Saturdays and close by 8 p.m. at the latest.”

The monthly art walks, which are held the second Saturday of each month, draw thousands of young people and usually wind up as boisterous block parties. On Tuesday, ARTtuesdays/MIAMI will present a panel discussion titled “What’s Next for the Wynwood Art Galleries?” at Books & Books in Coral Gables to explore whether the neighborhood’s increasingly bustling nightlife, combined with the large number of empty warehouse spaces and a lack of a geographical center, may have a negative impact on the galleries.

“Wynwood now has an international profile,” says Helen Kohen, the art historian and critic who will moderate the panel. “It’s been written about a lot. All the people who come to Art Basel have been to Wynwood for various reasons. So here Miami finally has developed a viable arts center, and it seems to be imploding.”

Wedged between 20th and 36th streets, just east of I-95, Wynwood’s Art District is currently home to more than 70 museums, galleries and collections. One of the neighborhood’s most popular attractions are the Wynwood Walls, giant murals that line the streets painted by renowned graffiti artists. There is even a movie theater, O Cinema, that specializes in art film fare.

But the neighborhood is also dotted by vacant warehouses, industrial businesses and eyesore buildings that get in the way of the intended art village vibe.

Fredric Snitzer, one of the few Miami gallerists invited to exhibit at Art Basel Miami Beach, says he doesn’t even bother to open on Second Saturdays any more. He is also pessimistic about the future of Wynwood as a thriving art district, even though he was one of the area’s pioneers (his gallery opened in 2004).

“I don’t know what is going to happen here,” he says. “One of the initial aspirations I had for the neighborhood is that there were so many beautiful kinds of raw spaces that perhaps serious galleries from out-of-town would come in and there would be a Chelsea or SoHo feel — a cluster of galleries showing solid work.

“But there are too many buildings spread out over too large of an area. The neighborhood is sprawling and it still has quite a bit of a crime problem. If it was smaller, the city could control it. But now, there’s a gallery over here and a restaurant a mile away over there. I don’t have the aspirations I used to have about the neighborhood any more.’’

Susan P. Kelley, director of the Kelley Roy Gallery, says that because her gallery is not located on NW Second Avenue — ground zero for the Second Saturday parties — she has been spared a lot of the chaos.

“We don’t get the herds; we get to cultivate our audience to come to us,” she says. “But the tide has shifted dramatically. We used to serve wine, and we stopped that two years ago because kids would come in, pick up the glasses of wine and leave. One of the purposes of a gallery is to provide entertainment to people. Not everyone is a buyer. But you still want them to come to enjoy the art and learn and have their minds expanded. Just not to the point where it isn’t respected.’’

Kelley says that “very little” art is sold on Second Saturdays, and points out that an increasing number of art dealers are holding their openings via invitation on Thursday or Friday nights instead.

But other gallery owners say Second Saturdays are an effective way to entice younger people to pay attention to art.

“People in the art world are constantly complaining that contemporary art doesn’t have a modern audience, and this is one way to fix that,” says Nina Johnson-Milweski, director of Gallery Diet. On Second Saturdays, she extends opening hours to 9 p.m. from her usual 5 p.m. closing time.

“Part of my interest in running a gallery isn’t just for the business: It’s also for the cultural benefit of the city as a whole. A lot of people who live in Miami aren’t even aware of the art scene here.”