Friday, March 7, 2008

That Big Thing I've Been Hinting At...

The trouble with hyping something is that heightened expectations are so easy to disappoint. And the importance of this story may not be readily apparent to everyone. You might recall earlier this week I beat up on a snooty critic who felt himself clever reciting the hackneyed old view of Vegas as, in his words, "a steroidal temple of tackiness."

Well, in the same pages as that phrase appeared, I'm breaking on Saturday an exclusive in The New York Times about a $40 million public art program at MGM Mirage's CityCenter. You can read all about it here.

Why is this such a big deal?

To start with, the artists involved are the Elvises (Elvi?) of their worlds. None is more amazing than Maya Lin, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial sculptress. She's creating a $3 million, 130-foot cast-silver representation of the Colorado River. Some pieces are being created, others are being acquired. Among the artists is Jenny Holzer, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Henry Moore, Richard Long and Nancy Rubins.

Don't worry; I wasn't that familiar with all of them either before I caught wind of this story. That's why I grabbed some images of what some of the pieces will look like.

First, here's the Henry Moore piece, which MGM Mirage paid $7 million for:

This here is the Claes Oldenburg piece, called "Typewriter Eraser X"...

The wackiest of the pieces may be the Nancy Rubins piece. She takes boats and stuff and turns them into a gargantuan tree, and this one will be 85-by-65-feet big. The images below show roughly where it'll be and what it looks like, which provides if nothing else a pretty cool new visual perspective on CityCenter. The Times has a slideshow, but these weren't included:

But the big deal here is that this plan has the potential to kick off an arts arms race in Las Vegas that really could turn the town into a destination for cultural tourists. Sure, we've had small Strip museums -- Bellagio and Venetian and, before he realized Rolexes provide better profits, Wynn Las Vegas -- but those are one aspect.

This collection -- along with the impressive architects involved with CityCenter -- singlehandedly changed the view of Las Vegas for art critic Joan Altabe, who I had quoted in a piece in the Times in 2002 railing against putting great art in a city where everything is so fake. How, she wondered, would people even know they were looking at the real thing with all the reproductions of famous cities and frescos around them?

In a comment that got cut from the Times piece because of space constraints, she said: “This is going to put Vegas on the map in a totally different way. Someone with an art mind is working here. I’m dazzled by this. It’s a step away from what I thought was a failing idea.”

You can hear a longer conversation with the wonderful Maya Lin next week on "The Strip Podcast." And I guess that's one other reason I'm so jazzed; every time Vegas goes in a new and unexpected direction, it provides me with an opportunity to learn something new from nothing less than the biggest names in their fields.


Anonymous said...

Uhh, $7 million for a piece of art? Really? THis is progress?

gregoryzephyr said...

Which is exactly why modern art can work as an attraction in Vegas. You pick up interest from both those who appreciate and from those who go, "$7 mil for that crap? I wouldn't give you ten bucks for it." I can just imagine the visitors going home and telling the friends, "We went to that there City Center place and they had all this weird stuff they called 'art.' You gotta go check it out!"

Ray said...

This is really fantastic! Our household collects art and we have bought a number of pieces from galleries in Las Vegas. There are some fantastic artists who show in Las Vegas and some good galleries there... and the quality will only improve as the city becomes more and more identified with the best contemporary artists. Just this weekend we were at the Bellagio and saw some tourists enthralled with the Chihuly store... this will only get better as more people see great art and want to learn more.