Las Vegas Sun

August 16, 2017

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Moving Art: Godt-Cleary Projects focusing energy on downtown gallery

With footprints in construction dust, fresh paint on the walls and a mission as clear as the view of the old furniture stores across the street, the Godt-Cleary Projects has further enmeshed itself with the Las Vegas art scene.

It closed its sister gallery at Mandalay Place last month and is devoting all attention to its downtown storefront, a 4,500-square-foot gallery in the arts district, where antique dealers, boutique owners and gallery entrepreneurs have gradually been nabbing leases over the years.

"We get better interest here than we did at Mandalay Bay," Gallery director Michele Quinn said, referring to the Main Street location, which is near Charleston Boulevard.

"People are more engrossed. They're here to see art rather than just walking by. At First Friday, people were actually looking at the artwork, asking questions."

Godt-Cleary, a contemporary art gallery, owned by Glenn Schaeffer, chief executive officer and president of Mandalay Bay Resorts, opened its downtown location in October and recently remodeled.

Quinn, 35, had been curious about the area, but was more inspired to move to the area when Dust Gallery, which shows emerging local and national artists, moved out of the Arts Factory in May and into its own space on Main Street.

Quinn sees the arts district as much more emotionally embracing than the corporate air at Mandalay Bay, where she said customers and colleagues didn't quite understand the gallery's mission.

"For a while you take it personally," Quinn said. "It was a lot of work. I put a year and a half of my life to make it work.

"This sort of felt more like a real L.A.-style setup, a storefront. People can drive up to it. And the arts really do well as a group. We all support each other just being next to each other. That's why First Friday has been successful.

"Three to five years from now, this piece is going to be amazing. It just has the right energy level."

Surrounding business owners eager to see the area flourish welcomed Godt-Cleary's arrival.

"A gallery like that really gives credence to what we're doing," said Cindy Funkhouser, owner of the Funk House and founder of the First Friday events. "Just the idea that a blue-chip gallery that sells that kind of art moves into the area shows that they believe in the area."

The collection

The Rauschenberg exhibit, which continues through March, has more than 20 pieces, including screen prints from the L.A. Uncovered series, "Street Sounds West," "Epic," "Collateral," and wood sculptures "Publicon Station I" and "Publicon Station VI."

The rest of Godt-Cleary's inventory is a backroom stash of mostly original prints by artists Paul Alexander, Ed Ruscha, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Long and Jasper Johns, black-and-white screen prints by Andy Warhol and prints by David Hockney. There are also pieces by Claus Oldenburg and Jeff Koons.

Quinn manages Schaeffer's collection, which is half the store's inventory.

"Glenn's a minimalist, so we get a lot of minimalism," Quinn said. "We have pop art. We keep it specific. We want to have the identity of what quality to expect when they come here."

Artist objects are for sale, including David Shrigley's "Heroin and Cocaine" salt and pepper shakers, John Baldasarri's ceramic bedpans and Jenny Holzer's "Use What is Dominant" clear glass bowl.

Other merchandise includes a large collection of art books unavailable at local chain bookstores. What didn't make it from the Mandalay Place gallery were the arty clocks, chess sets, tea sets and jewelry.

"We got into a lot of tea sets that got into Bauhaus design, which didn't make sense," Quinn said. "It doesn't do the gallery or the art any good when you mix your message."

More than half the space is dedicated to exhibits. Upcoming shows include "Double Exposure," a collection of diptychs by European contemporary artists in April and a minimalist sculpture show in July.

Quinn still has clients from when she worked in New York, and the gallery is building relationships with private and corporate collectors. "We're doing the arts collection for the Nevada Cancer Institute," Quinn said. "That's one of the things I'm trying to work more actively on. There's so much we can do. Las Vegas is a growing community that could really benefit from mixing contemporary art. It adds to the development of the space."

Stepping forward

A graduate of Bishop Gorman High School, Quinn made the leap from Las Vegas to New York auction houses and top galleries via the University of San Diego, New York University's graduate program in arts administration, and night school at Fordham, where she got her MBA.

Her loaded resume began with an internship at the Leo Castelli Gallery. Yet she's not too big to fawn over memories of watching the installations of Robert Long at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, where she worked as a museum guard.

"First time I got my museum guard job in San Diego, I thought, 'My gosh, I've made it,' " Quinn said.

It's likely Quinn repeated that phrase several times over the next 10 years. Castelli, the legendary gallery owner and purveyor of contemporary art, was the first to show work by Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Later, his walls would feature Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and others.

"They took me under their wing," Quinn said, referring to the gallery. "It was the early '90s. All the great artists were still with him. Lichtenstein, Jasper, James Rosenquist. I learned all about printing."

As director at Brooke Alexander Editions and at Gemini at Joni Moisant Weyl in New York City, Quinn worked on corporate collections for Mellon Bank and collections for private clients, and went to Switzerland each summer for art fairs. At Christie's, where she was vice president for the print department, the work was laborious. Quinn catalogued 300 pieces in about three months.

"It was a good experience," Quinn said of Christie's. "Would I do it forever? No. I learned more about Picasso prints and Chagall than I care to see."

Gemini and Brooke Alexander Editions provided connections and experience that Quinn would bring to Las Vegas when she came to curate Schaeffer's personal art collection and the work hanging in The Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

Looking at Rauschenberg's "Soviet American Array" in the gallery, Quinn said, "I followed this print around for the past 10 years. Several years ago it was $8,000. It went up to $10,000 and now it's $15,000."

The district

Though the bottom line is to sell, Quinn sees herself as a consultant and the gallery as a resource for the art community. Not all exhibits at Godt-Cleary will be works for sale. An upcoming James Turrell installation, something Quinn notes as new to the Las Vegas community, will be for display only.

Godt-Cleary's inaugural downtown opening, a First Friday event featuring photographs and billboards by Dennis Hopper, brought in roughly 600 visitors. While Hopper was unable to attend the opening, he later spoke to a young collectors group that Quinn and Elizabeth Herridge are involved with at the Guggenheim.

Quinn is working with Naomi Arin, owner of Dust and co-founder of the nonprofit arts group Whirlygig Inc., on a new program called Third Thursday, a forum-style art event happening on the third Thursday of each month.

Arin, a former grant writer at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, said Godt-Cleary adds more substance and variety to the arts district.

"It's another step toward building a community of art galleries," Arin said. "It's really important that there's a lot of choice because art is as varied as people. There's no one gallery that's going to have everything.

"I almost cried the day she (Quinn) said she was moving in there. There aren't a lot of people who have that knowledge in Las Vegas -- both in the auction business and in running a gallery. They show blue-chip artists, people fundamental to art history."

Having established artists from earlier contemporary periods helps put context in exhibits at Dust, Arin said.

"It helps to see why someone is doing something in 2005 in our gallery," Arin said. "It's nice to have that philosophical difference."

Meanwhile, Arin and other investors bought a 6,000-square-foot building (down the street from Godt-Cleary) that will have a cafe and two art galleries, one of which is Cartelle from Marina Del Ray Cartelle Gallery that features emerging-to-mid-level artists.

Arin sees independent free-standing spaces essential to the area's growth. She moved Dust out of the Arts Factory on Charleston Boulevard when she realized she needed to create an identity and have room for hosting shows, such as the upcoming "New York Heart (Loves) Las Vegas," an exhibit opening Jan. 12 that features New York artists.

Quinn said opening a gallery in New York was never really something she considered.

"New York has 600 galleries," Quinn said. "The last thing they needed was another one.

"Working with Brooke Alexander, who is also an icon, I never had any intention of leaving him. Then this kind of came up with Glenn. I thought I'd give it a shot and see what happens."

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