Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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New focus, new look for gallery

Bellagio goes contemporary for exhibit from San Diego museum


Sam Morris

John Bissonette, left, and J.W. Caldwell move a work by Hans Hoffman on Wednesday while preparing the exhibit of “classic contemporary” art that opens today at the Bellagio gallery.

Click to enlarge photo

Andy Warhol's "Flowers" waits to be hanged Wednesday at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Getting it into the gallery required cutting a hole in the wall of the gift shop and removing its glass doors.

If You Go

  • What: “Classic Contemporary: Lichtenstein, Warhol and Friends”
  • When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through Sept. 8
  • Where: Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art
  • Tickets: $15; $12 for Nevada residents and seniors; $10 for students, teachers and military with identification; free for children 12 and younger, 693-7871

A contemporary exhibit that isn’t all Warhol is a bit risky for a Las Vegas gallery that has made its money on throngs of tourists flocking to see branded artists and old masterpiece paintings worth millions of dollars.

Big names and familiar works have long been the mantra for the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art.

“Classic Contemporary: Lichtenstein, Warhol & Friends,” opening today, happens to include one of the most famous names in art, but that’s sort of a little name-dropping to get folks in the door.

The paintings, prints and sculptures (circa 1960s and ’70s) in the 17-piece exhibit from the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego includes works by Ellsworth Kelly, Ed Ruscha, Sol LeWitt, Clyfford Still, Claes Oldenburg and others.

The exhibit, which follows “American Modernism,” represents the Strip gallery’s new direction: contemporary, but not too contemporary, a break from the Impressionism that defined the space for a few years, says Tarissa Tiberti, who became director when Bellagio took over the gallery one year ago.

Walls and nooks in the gallery have been removed to create a more contemporary open space that gives the works a chance to pop off the walls — vastly different from the dark and intimate feel of an antiquated library, the look that was established when Steve Wynn opened the space in 1998.

Featured on the white walls are Kelly’s large-scale minimalist painting, “Red, Blue, Green”; Frank Stella’s circle (and half circle) painting, “Sinjerli 1” and “Sabra III.” Warhol’s 1972 silk-screens “Mao Tse-Tung,” “Campbell’s Soup Can Portfolio II” and a version of his “Flowers,” which is used for the catalog and other promotional material. “Flowers” is so large (almost 10 feet by 10 feet) that it required cutting an 11-foot-by-11 1/2 inch-wide hole in the wall of the gift shop and removing its glass doors just to get the painting into the gallery. Also included are LeWitt’s “Floor Piece #4,” a cubed, geometric wood sculpture, and Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light work, “Untitled (to Marianne).” The Lichtensteins include three lithographs from his “Cathedral Series” and a 1971 painting, “Mirror,” from the series he created from 1969 to 1972.

Although small in number of works, the collection aims to show the relationship between abstract expressionist works, Pop art and minimalism.

Michele Quinn, MGM Mirage’s curatorial adviser, who worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego after college, curated the exhibit using the influential Warhol as a launching point, but included a 1949 abstract expressionist painting by Still “(Untitled PH-99),” who along with Hans Hoffman establishes the chronology.

Several of the works had been featured in an inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s downtown facility one year ago. The museum has 4,100 works in its collection. The majority are works on paper. The rest — about 1,500 — are paintings, sculptures, videos and installations, says Hugh Davies, longtime director of the museum.

Quinn says the museum was at the top of her list for logical partnerships. It’s close, has a similar audience and is progressive. The museum collects mostly cutting-edge work made in the past three years. Las Vegas artists David Ryan and Tim Bavington are featured in its collection. The gallery has also discussed possible partnerships with the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and the Brooklyn Museum. Contemporary shows are more affordable and available than traveling shows of masterpieces.

Davies says the partnership helps promote the San Diego museum, whose collection is not as widely known as some other Southern California institutions.

Davies also is exposing Las Vegas to the museum’s trustees and members of a collectors group who are in Las Vegas to visit studios, galleries and private collections and tour the art in Bellagio’s executive offices.

There is also a cultural courtesy to the partnership. Las Vegas is one of the few cities of its size that doesn’t have a collecting institution. “Those of us who have great art have an obligation to share it,” Davies says.

Neither party would say how much Bellagio paid the museum for the exhibit.

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