Saturday, December 19, 2009

Opening Aria II: Food & Art

In sorting through how to present the many images from the opening of Aria last week, I found a strong emphasis in my photography on food and art/artistic visuals. The above, for instance, was the display that greeted Aria opening night VIP party guests. Here's the label...

...and here's another image of same.

There was a lot of food that I do not eat, namely foie gras and any meat or fishy thing that's uncooked. That's why I was so excited to find at the Union Bar off from the casino they were doing sliders. Very delicious sliders. Sliders that I simply assumed were some special cut of beef. Until I stepped into the light and realized that these sliders were...

...veal. Which I do not eat. Not because I don't like the taste -- which is why I have the heebie jeebies about uncooked meat and fish -- but for the same reason that I don't eat foie gras. That is, both are foods that cannot be made without being incredibly cruel to animals for their entire short lives. It is true that I eat beef, pork, chicken and other meat that comes, frequently, from factory farms where the animals live painful and tormented lives. This is an ongoing problem for my conscience and I'm still working on how to address it, having found that I couldn't afford free-range meat on a regular basis when I tried a year ago. But there is no way to produce foie gras without force feeding a duck and no way to produce veal without permanently deprieving a calf of mobility.

So that was unfortunate. There was still plenty of yum abounding:

OK, that -- Jean Phillippe Patisserie The Sequel -- wasn't open. But it still looked delicious.

The one thing that I baffled over was actually not at the party at all but in the media center that occupied a ballroom at Vdara. I'd never had one of these...

I have never had one of these. Any tips how to eat it? #cityc... on Twitpic

...and had to ask people on Twitter how to eat it. (Answer: Cut in half, spoon out.)

OK, so the art. I don't think I fully understood even when I broke the story of the $40 million art program in the New York Times in early 2008 just how significant it would be. You've seen pictures everywhere of "Silver River" by Maya Lin (see my Sphere.Com profile of her from last week, too) and I've posted shots of the Nancy Rubins boat sculpture, the giant typewriter eraser, the Frank Stella at Vdara registration, the wonderful Vdara elevator area installations of stacked paper by Peter Wegner and the Henry Moore in Jim Murren's notorious pocket park.

Well, a few more now. These mammoth installations on the lobbies of Veer by Richard Long are really cool... is this one hanging in Aria that is, sadly and weirdly, not listed in the CityCenter Fine Art Collection brochure that is intended as a self-guide:

It was also exciting, on a tour on Tuesday with curator Michele Quinn, to find out that they ended up picking up this...

...Tim Bavington for the high-limit slot area. That's cool because Bavington is actually a local, a British artist who came to UNLV to study with Dave Hickey and has seen his career flourish in the cradle of Vegas. His work has some relationship to radio frequencies and can be found in many prominent places in Vegas including in the dining room of Spago at Caesars Palace.

The piece below, which hangs over the cactus garden outside the entrances to Sirio, American Fish and Jean Georges Steakhouse, is by far my least favorite piece:

It's not in the brochure, of course, so I don't know who did it but it is part of the collection. To me, it is more design than art. Sorta tacky, really.

They don't view this as art, but the Lumia, the fountain out front of Aria, certainly ought to qualify. Not only does the interplay of color and water rivet...

...but how about what it looks like reflected under the nearby glass and steel overhangs:

WET, the folks behind the Lake of Dreams and the Bellagio Fountains, have five features, three at Aria and two at Crystals. This massive and lengthy one... the Aria valet drive is just very pretty and really frames the mugshot of the hotel itself beautifully.

This one, though, was a dud.

That's Glacia at the Crystals. It's basically just columns of ice that form and melt. Zzzz. When we were first told about this, the PR folks made it sound like they would freeze and melt in midair or right before you. But, no, it takes all day. Nothing actually HAPPENS. And since they're encouraging people to touch it, I can't wait until it's 115 degrees outside and some drunk guy tries to climb one of the pillars or eat it or something.

Two more things. I know Hunter Hillegas of RateVegas.Com is sticking to his opinion that these card-sculpture walls in the Aria poker room are ugly...

...but I still think they're pretty and fun and whimsical.

And when I took my CityCenter tours in November for my stories, the PR folks didn't really know if all this exposed piping at this shop in Aria was intentional or whether it was just mid-construction.

Now that it's done, I have to say that this is a one of the coolest looking stores I've ever seen anywhere. I don't even know what they sell. I just love looking at it.


Anonymous said...

I love the art I am seeing in these photos and others but one big question I have is whether this type of art will work in a Las Vegas resort setting. Contemporary art in an urban settings is often complimented by the older historic architecture and gritty urban vibe that surrounds it. Super imposing this same art amongst a brand spanking new complex surrounded by self-consciously themed resorts changes the impact this contemporary art has on me. The multiple times I have been to Las Vegas I have loved my stay there but I've always been very aware of the lack of architectural gravitas. Now that it has arrived along with truckloads of public art installations it seems at first out of place. Maybe over time or (when I see it in person) the art and the resort will seem more inviting but from this distance it seems only to serve as a reminder to this tourist of how devoid most of the strip is of the urban warmth projected by New York or Chicago. I find myself shocked to admit that maybe there is something to be said for the faux warmth of an Italian or French themed resort rather than the very real chilliness of a contemporary resort on the strip. I can't wait to see it for myself to make up my mind.

J.T. said...

The Tim Bavington piece is gorgeous. I agree with you about Lumia as well; I took about 20 pictures of it. And like you, I wasn't all that impressed with Glacia. (Though to be honest, I didn't get close enough to realize it was ice! I thought it was just some kind of hardened foam.) Your speculation about Glacia being in peril from summer visitors makes me wonder how long it will be before some drunk guy mistakes that water wall at the entrance for a giant urinal. As for the silver triangles hanging above the cactus garden, I didn't even know those were meant to be art; I just thought they were decorative. I'm afraid that coiled wire thingy hanging in Aria doesn't do anything for me either; it looks like a tangle of coaxial cable in one of CSN's networking labs to me. I'm obviously not the sophisticated, urbane, foie gras- and veal-consuming customer that CityCenter has in mind.

atdnext said...

Yeah, I'm also digging the Bavington piece, as well as the card installation in the poker room. This is really getting me excited about seeing Aria in person soon!

Anon 6:12-

I guess b/c I'm now a local who wants to be proud of Vegas, I'm much more excited about all the art and design of CityCenter. I know a lot of locals are still mourning the loss of The Sands 15 years later (It's GONE! Get over it, already.), but I honestly think the overall "Vegas 3.0" trend has been improving The Strip and breathing new life into an area that was starting to look like a ridiculous caricature with all the themed casinos and cheap gimmicks.

It will probably take some time for people to start to appreciate the "new urban" atmosphere of CityCenter, but hopefully they will soon. Many locals are still in denial about Vegas growing up into a "big city", but we're now a big city so IMHO it's time we start acting like one.

ucsb1990 said...

I gotta agree with atdnext on this one. I was born in Vegas and I have fond memories of the Sands, but I certainly don't wish it was still there instead of the Venetian. I liked the original Dunes tower, too, but I sure wouldn't trade the Bellagio for it. The Strip has never been better than it is now, and CityCenter is the crown jewel. If I were a high roller, I would certainly stay (and play) at CityCenter the next time I came to town.