Fine Art in Las Vegas

By Gangelhoff, Bonnie | Southwest Art, November 2001 | Go to article overview
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Fine Art in Las Vegas


Gangelhoff, Bonnie, Southwest Art


ART TRENDS

WILL CHAGALL FIND A HOME NEXT TO SHOWGIRLS?

The art world is both fascinated and appalled. Fine art in Las Vegas? Can Picasso thrive alongside dancing dolphins, poker tables, and Wayne Newton? The high rollers are betting on it. And the odds look good. "We are having an explosion of art here," rhapsodizes Trish Williamson, public relations director for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. "This is the entertainment capital of the world. Now we are adding art."

What Williamson is referring to is the scheduled October 2001 openings of not one but two branches of the Guggenheim Museum at the grand Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, a 6,000-room entertainment complex. The Hermitage-Guggenheim Museum is a collaboration between the St. Petersburg, Russia, and New York art institutions. Its inaugural exhibition, Masterpieces and Master Collectors, presents works by Matisse, Monet, and Picasso. The Guggenheim Las Vegas bows in with The Art of the Motorcycle, an unusual exhibit that raised snobby eyebrows when it opened at the Guggenheim in New York. The exhibit features 120 motorcycles and chronicles key moments in the machine's evolution.

Both museums are designed by the architect of the moment, Rem Koolhaas of the Netherlands. California architect Frank 0. Gehry, who created the splashy Guggenheim Bilbao, designed the exhibition space for the cycle show. Designs by these two international powerhouses alone offer enough incentive to visit Vegas as an art destination.

For the uninitiated, the two "Guggs" aren't the first highart venues to surface attached to glitzy hotels and casinos. The trend actually began several years ago with the vision of one man---casino owner Steve Wynn. Reportedly, when Wynn heard that more Americans visit art exhibitions than sports events, he decided to own the first casino to house an art collection-his own, valued in the multi-millions. He also wanted to attract a high-end, sophisticated clientele to his new hotel, the 3,000-room Bellagio that opened in 1998. His hotel gallery was an instant success. And Wynn soon became known as the catalyst behind the New Vegas, the first person to merge the gaming and entertainment industry with high art.

Wynn's vision, along with a widespread effort to bring in designer boutiques and kid-friendly attractions, is causing Sin City, which was founded by gangsters, to attract a new kind of crowd. "It's not just a gaming destination anymore. At Bellagio, 50 percent or more of the people come here for the non-gaming aspects: entertainment, shopping, and dining with award-winning chefs," says Wendie Mosca, public relations manager for MGM Mirage, which includes the Bellagio hotel and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Mosca points out that a recent show of works from the Phillips Collection averaged 800 visitors a day and chalked up a total of 165,279 viewers to the gallery. The following show, which closed in September, garnered even more ink and airtime because it displayed entertainer Steve Martin's collection-an array of paintings that included works by Edward Hopper and Picasso.

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