COURTESY WPH ARCHITECTURE, INC.
Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Plans to bring a privately funded museum of contemporary art to downtown Las Vegas have been put on hold.
Poju Zabludowicz, chairman and chief executive of Tamares Group, withdrew his group’s proposal to build a museum in an old fingerprinting building on East Fremont Street in the Entertainment District. He cited the poor economy for last week’s decision.
Spokesman Jonathan Jossel said Tamares still plans to open a contemporary art museum in Las Vegas.
“We are very disappointed that the economy has dictated that we not invest $12 million in a nonprofit venture right now,” Jossel said. “We fully intend to create a museum of contemporary art, as it has been a dream of ours for some time and will continue to be. We recognize, however, that the city cannot hold that property for us in perpetuity, so if they find an alternative use, we will seek an alternative location for the MOCA when the time is right.”
The city required that the museum be completed within two years, a timeline that didn’t work for Tamares, Jossel said.
Finnish businessman Zabludowicz and his wife, Anita, have been collecting art since the mid-1990s and would have funded the museum privately.
The Zabludowicz Collection includes more than 1,000 works by emerging artists of the late 20th and 21st centuries. Some of those works would be brought to Las Vegas and rotated in exhibits at the museum. The centerpiece would be a permanent installation of about 8,000 square feet by British artist Keith Tyson, who won the Turner Prize in 2002.
Titled “Large Field Array,” the installation features 300 sculptures, mostly 2-foot cubes, arranged in a grid on the floor and walls. Based on the radio telescopes at the Very Large Array in New Mexico, the idea is that the field of sculptures — diorama of the Grand Canyon, ink bottle, coffee cup with images of “Friends” characters, Donald Trump’s wedding cake, black holes — are interconnected and overwhelming.
The Tamares Group owns several properties downtown, including the Plaza and the Las Vegas Club, and for two years has been looking at museum sites downtown.
The museum was one of six proposals for the property at 601 E. Fremont St., said Scott Adams, director of the city’s Office of Business Development.
Adams said he’s disappointed that Tamares withdrew its plans. The city already has contacted the other five groups that had submitted proposals for the site. Most of them were for nightclubs.
Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has long identified himself as a proponent of the arts, said Monday that he doesn’t support a downtown art museum.
“I don’t see a museum for art as necessary downtown,” Goodman said. “The masters are on the Strip. There’s also a round-trip plane fare to Los Angeles. It’s not necessary to have an art museum. I want a mob museum.”
The art museum site and that of the proposed mob museum, on Steward Avenue, are within the city’s redevelopment zone. The city is putting up $8 million for the mob museum and another $35 million from redevelopment bonds.
The change in plans is a “devastating blow to the area,” said Michael Cornthwaite, who owns the Downtown Cocktail Room, about a block away from the site that had been proposed for the 23,000 square-foot art museum — which included a club and restaurant in its plans.
“It would have been a day and night attraction for a new demographic of people. Instead of a pool hall or a Mardi Gras-themed hotel, it would have attracted a more worldly group of people and international attention,” Corn-
“We need to draw people down here with something great. A pool hall with local bands — though it wouldn’t hurt it — wouldn’t help to develop the area at the magnitude that this would help.”
Naomi Arin, who owns Naomi Arin Contemporary Art in the SoHo Lofts on Hoover Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, saw “Large Field Array” at the Pace Wildenstein gallery in New York. “It was one of the best installations I have ever seen in my life and they were going to bring it to Las Vegas and it was going to live here. It’s an epic piece. You could spend an entire day in one sculpture.”
Arin said not having the museum at the site is “heartbreaking” and she hopes the Zabludowiczes continue with plans to bring a museum downtown: “It would be a tremendous coup for the city because they have a very important collection and they were going to inject millions of dollars downtown.”
Libby Lumpkin, former executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum, was disappointed to hear that the museum had postponed its plans.
“Great art, more often than not, surprises you because it presents to you something to see that you never knew that you wanted to see,” Lumpkin said. “It’s sort of like a museum. You don’t know how important it is until you have one. It’s really sad that they’re postponing it. Las Vegas has let a lot of things pass through its fingers.”