Friday, May 23, 2008 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- What: “Las Vegas Collects Contemporary”
- Where: Las Vegas Art Museum, 9600 W. Sahara Ave.
- When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday
- Through: Oct. 26
- Admission: $6, $5 for seniors, $3 for students and free for children under 12; 360-8000
For all the jabbing Las Vegas takes as an uncultured candyland, civilized society would be impressed to know what is behind the doors of local homes: Damien Hirst, Dan Flavin, Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Add to that Kara Walker, a brilliant Uta Barth and an early model of Michael Heizer’s ongoing and rarely seen earthwork, “City.”
But this isn’t about boasting to the world.
“Las Vegas Collects Contemporary,” opening today at the Las Vegas Art Museum, invites the community into the thriving contemporary arts scene that lives behind closed doors.
The works in the exhibit are merely a tiny hint at the large volume of vast private (and mostly anonymous) collections in town, meaning there are a lot of Basquiats hanging around. Richter is no stranger to the valley. Nor is Hirst, the hottest-selling contemporary artist, whose animals displayed in formaldehyde of the 1990s launched him into controversial art world fame.
Seeing a Basquiat, a Hirst and a Richter together is unprecedented in Las Vegas, so we can consider ourselves lucky. It’s definitely not a complete survey of contemporary art. Nor does it pretend to be. But for Las Vegas, it’s a lot.
“This is going to introduce serious contemporary art to a lot of people in this town,” says the museum’s executive director, Libby Lumpkin. “Children who don’t travel. This is all they’ll see. This is it.”
The showcase exhibit, the result of a long process by Lumpkin, who worked with more than a dozen astute collectors for the show, gives a tiny peek into some amazing treasures owned by the likes of casino executives Jim Murren, Glenn Schaeffer, Roger Thomas and the Fertittas.
Some gems were either too large, too expensive or too fragile to be part of the exhibit. Then the museum just ran out of room, which really emphasizes how badly we need a contemporary art institution in Las Vegas that’s not attached to a library and can house permanent collections and host exhibits.
Sometimes it’s just fun to walk into a room and see a Massio Vitali beach scene or Andreas Gursky’s birds-eye, altered perspective of a soccer field — both these chromogenic prints are part of the exhibit. A recognized fine art photographer, Gursky also has a small cult following from the popularity of “99 cent,” a 1999 image capturing the gaudiness of cheap consumerism.
Then there is Barth’s beautiful and seductive triptych “untitled,” which is owned by designer Lee Cagley. Similar to work from her “nowhere near” series, “untitled” was shot by the photographer in 1999 while she was looking out the window of her living room onto her suburban yard. The images are emotional, sublime and mysterious.
Also featured is an unusual Ed Ruscha — a pencil sketch of mining equipment with footprints on paper — a David Hockney pen and ink on paper and a couple of Donald Judd pieces. Flavin’s fluorescent light pieces greet visitors at the entrance exhibit, along with a digital video work by Jennifer Steinkamp.
“Las Vegas Collects” was intended to launch the museum from its West Sahara Avenue location to a new East Sunset Road location. But the museum’s decision to build its own downtown facility means the new location won’t be ready for at least a couple of years, so what we have is just a really interesting look at the seriousness and depth of collecting in town.
Hirst’s “Evangelists 2 — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,” is part of a collection of Lorenzo and Teresa Fertitta, who also own Basquiat’s “Warrior,” which is in the show. Similar to the British artist’s Bilotti paintings, “Evangelists 2” is a four-panel, mixed-media-on-canvas series. Formally framed behind glass in massive wooden frames, the life, death, religion and art narrative is told through an assemblage of butterflies, blades, soil, scissors, Bible pages, religious pendants, medals and pencils.
Mixed with well-known late-20th-century artists are relative newcomers, including Michael Reafsnyder, Julie Venske and Gregor Spanle. Reafsnyder’s lush, rich abstract paintings were featured in a solo show at the museum in 2005. An exhibit this year at the downtown Dust Gallery featured Venske and Spanle’s bulbous and playful marble sculptures. Steinkamp’s “Aria” was featured on the Fremont Street Experience in 2000.
“All of these artists were in public exhibitions before they made it into private collections,” Lumpkin says. “That is a really healthy sign of the art community in Las Vegas.”
Edgy magician Penn Gillette owns Walker’s “I’ll Be a Monkey’s Uncle,” a sexually drenched lithograph on rag paper. It features a young black woman ringing out a rag in the company of a monkey and is reflective of the artist’s cut-paper silhouettes commenting on the fictionalized white history of the black antebellum South.
Gillette also loaned “Letter to Penn,” a very personal gouache, pen and pencil on paper by Tony Fitzpatrick, to the museum for the show. Lumpkin says there are enough Fitzpatricks in town to do a complete show of the artist.
There is a lot of minimalism in local collections, including works by James Turrell and John McCracken. Unfortunately, Lumpkin says, the museum doesn’t have enough space to show it appropriately with all of the other work loaned for the exhibit. Ellsworth Kelly prints and sculptures are all over the community, but not available for the show.
Richter’s squeegee painting, “Grun-Blau-Rot,” is small but exciting. Getting a large Richter isn’t so easy. “If you’ve invested in a Richter and it’s living in your living room, it’s hard to give it up for a while,” Lumpkin says.
Three-dimensional works include Saint Clair Cemin’s shiny “The Thinker,” owned by Jim and Heather Murren, and two “Column” paintings by Karl Benjamin owned by Schaeffer.
The showstopper could be the sculpture that serves as a model of Heizer’s secretive work.
Loaned by an anonymous collector, “45 degrees, 90 degrees, 180 degrees” is a steel and wood sculpture made from a cardboard model that was exhibited in 1972.
Heizer is constructing “City” in a remote part of Nevada and allows few people to catch a glimpse of the monumental work. He’s been constructing it for more than 35 years and most have seen only the images that were part of a New York Times Sunday Magazine article on Heizer.
“This is an early reminder of what will become Nevada’s most important work,” Lumpkin says.