Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Miami needs to tolerate all sorts of art

In the post-script of Art Basel Miami Beach, one thing never changes: Every edition is pronounced “the best ever” by prominent collectors and organizers pleased with sales.

This one, however, might go down as the most newsworthy, although the prestigious contemporary art fair itself went as smoothly as any other, pranksters notwithstanding.

A New York City street performer was arrested after he managed to get into a VIP-only area where serious art-buying happens, yelled obscenities against the rich — and made the news after he pulled out a fake penis from his pants as he tousled with police.

A woman arrived at the Convention Center in a coat, and once inside, disrobed. She was wearing nothing but body paint — and rabbit ears. She was asked to leave. She put on her coat and left. The news didn’t even make a blurb, but an insider told me this story. “We’ve seen it all,” he said.


We also saw at Art Miami the theft of an $85,000 Picasso plate — and protests that targeted Basel-goers over excessive use of deadly force by police. Local and out-of-town demonstrators shut down a highway, spilling over into the art districts. Then, amid the glitz, glamour and civic activism, a tragedy: Another young man was seriously hurt while running away from police for the minor offense of “tagging” a wall, this one in the Wynwood Art District of all places.

Delbert “Demz” Rodriguez Gutierrez remains in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital after being struck Friday by a police car. Last summer, another graffiti artist, Israel “Reefa” Hernandez-Llach, died after Miami Beach police used a Taser on him. He was tagging a storefront.

A vibrant metropolitan art scene comes with its share of shenanigans and collateral damage, including graffiti artists tagging commercial walls in art districts and urban hubs.

We’re all grown up now, and it’s time to come to terms with the fact that what’s now dubbed “Miami Art Week” — because the art events extend far beyond Art Basel — will predictably attract eccentricities and shock-art behavior.

Shouldn’t local authorities know by now enough to manage all that comes with the territory?

All sorts of art, including graffiti-style, played a role in putting Miami on the international map.

Before highly stylized walls were painted in Wynwood by some of the world’s top graffiti artists — and before some of the most talented locals were, in a wise move, invited to join in to showcase their work, too — there was a thriving underground scene of graffiti “writers.”

There still is. And no, most are not gang members, as police often stereotype them.

They’re young people trying to express themselves, and yes, calling out for attention. Channeling their talents toward better purposes like mural-making in places that could use the art and making art events accessible to them are some of the things this community should be thinking about seriously. Reach out to them year-round.

Overzealous pursuit by police of street artists, as we’ve seen in these two cases, only brings about tragedy.

We can’t be an art destination and take a hard line against all that comes with the scene.