Las Vegas’ Emergence as World Art Hub Builds with New Exhibit

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Las Vegas’ Emergence as World Art Hub Builds with New Exhibit

Las Vegas has become “something of an art world hot spot,” according to a recent article in Vanity Fair, because of three high-profile recent events in and around the city

The latest is Sin City’s selection by New York City art dealer Stefania Bortolami as the next location for her passion project. Since 2015, “Artist/City” has paired artists with American cities in unlikely locations. Open from Nov. 18, 2022 to Feb. 26, 2023, the Las Vegas exhibit will feature new works from L.A.’s poker-playing pop-artist Jonas Wood, as well as New York–based Japanese artists Koichi Sato and Susumu Kamijo.

Don’t look for the exhibit at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. (No, that would have been likely.) We’ll tell you the unlikely location for the exhibit in a hot minute, because you won’t believe it. But first…

City by Michael Heizer
City by Michael Heizer
Artist Michael Heizer gives a tour of  his ‘City.’ The half-mile-long art installation opened in August 2002, after taking 50 years to complete, about 90 minutes north of Las Vegas. (Image: nyt.com)

History’s Biggest Art Installation (Possibly)

The art world is flipping out over the August 2022 unveiling of the masterpiece that New York-based public artist Michael Heizer has been working on since the early ’70s. “City” is an enormous complex Heizer managed to construct in the unforgiving rural desert near Alamo, Nev., 100 miles north of Las Vegas. And, this summer, it began welcoming its first visitors. No one’s willing to commit to the research yet, but at a mile and a half long, it stands a decent chance of being the biggest art installation ever.

Heizer was a leader of the land art movement of the ’70s. Sometimes also known as earthworks, the environmental genre – which grew out of the conceptual and minimalist movements – fuses art with nature to create structures that are less environmentally intrusive than the ones humans are famous for.

Heizer’s mostly outdoor works also include 2016’s “Tangential Circular Negative Line” in Mauvoisin, Switzerland and “Collapse” at Glenstone, Potomac, Md. But more art lovers have seen his 2012 boulder sculpture, “Levitated Mass,” since it’s on permanent display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“City” is designed to recall the ruins of a prehistoric city, with gigantic abstract forms composed of sand, cement, and other materials that emerge from the desert. It cost $40 million to produce, most of which came from grants from the Dia Art and Lannan foundations.

Appointments can only be made by emailing the Triple Aught Foundation, which Heizer set up to oversee the artwork. Each reservation costs $150. And you need to be prepared for some brutal hiking in some very unforgiving sun.

Your Pick of Picassos

The first recent Las Vegas event to catch the eye of the high-end art world was the sale of disgraced casino mogul Steve Wynn’s impressive former Picasso Collection. That took place last year at a pop-up Sotheby’s auction. In total, 11 Picassos sold for $109 million, exceeding the $100 million pre-sale estimate.

These included the top prize, “Femme au béret rouge-orange,” a bright 1938 portrait of the artist’s muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter, which sold for $40.5 million following a lengthy bidding war. The paintings were sold by MGM Resorts, which acquired them as part of its $4.4 billion acquisition of The Mirage from Wynn in 2000.

The Unlikely Vegas Location For ‘Artist/City’

The Bortolami Gallery, headquartered in New York City’s Soho, has presented eight iterations of “Artist/City” since its inception in 2015. They have included:

  • Hawaiian sculptor Paul Pfeiffer showing his multimedia pieces at the Watergate office building in Washington, DC.;
  • Beligan contemporary visual artist Ann Veronica Janssens silver-leafing the facades of several Baltimore theaters; and
  • L.A. artist Eric Wesley displaying his paintings of burritos in a former Taco Bell in St. Louis.

But the Las Vegas location is probably the most unlikely of all – as well as the most unsavory. It will open in a decommissioned Greyhound bus station next to the Plaza Hotel and Casino downtown. According to Casino.org’s own “Vital Vegas” blogger, Scott Roeben, the bus station was “a magnet for crime” before it closed, drawing “the most police calls for service in the entire city.”

The bus terminal closed in February 2021, when the Plaza Hotel refused to renew its lease. It had planned to redevelop the vacant building into new shops, restaurants, and an entertainment venue. Though that transformation hasn’t happened yet, the Greyhound station relocated next to Harry Reid International Airport.

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