Las Vegas Sun

March 26, 2019

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The culture club

In praise of those who put the “art” in “party”


Courtesy of Up All Day Creative Solutions

Painter Niki J. Sands, left, with Xania Woodman holding Sands’ “Musica” at the two-year anniversary of Up All Day’s monthly Expose art party at the Bellagio’s Caramel Lounge.

Thursday, February 26, 7:30 p.m.

It’s not so much that I hate modern art; it’s more that I hate modern art-lovers. Those starry-eyed “arteeest” fanboys and girls ruin perfectly good artistic efforts with their breathless, wordy praise spoken in hushed tones in the presence of … “the work.” I once got a migraine just setting foot inside New York’s MOMA, the pretension ran that deep.

Accordingly, I’ve long been afraid to attend any form of art-related party—of which Vegas has surprisingly many—and I count chief among my fears speaking with an artist—gulp!—about their own work. Until recently, my one consistent association with an artist has been limited to sitting next to Vegas’ own Michael Wardel at Downtown Cocktail Room. Pretty much any invitation smacking of art has gone straight into the trash, whether physical or virtual.

But on this, the occasion of my 210th column in just as many weeks, I go somewhat bravely into the lion’s den first to witness a party in an art space, then to observe art in a party space.

My goals are simple: 1. Speak to an Artist. 2. Drink and laugh loudly and often in the presence of Art. (At the Las Vegas Art Museum, my pen was shunned, my bottled water confiscated.) 3. Appreciate Art in nightclub lighting. 4. Observe whether alcohol lubricates conversation enough to turn critique to downright criticism. And if so, duck as the chardonnay-fueled slaps take flight. Considering that my day began with a tour of the LVAM on its penultimate day on earth (I first had to ask, “Where the hell is the Las Vegas Art Museum?!”), it’s clear that the muses find my efforts entertaining at the very least.

The Brett Wesley Gallery is temporarily housed in a posh penthouse at Newport Lofts, as swank a place as any for a gallery, not to mention a party. Milling around the two-story open floor plan with Heinekens and plastic cups of wine are an assortment of Downtown cognoscenti, media, artists and collectors. Dressed mostly in shades of black, black and gray, they mill about the concrete floor under industrial venting, taking in the installations and the view.

Scattered downstairs under thoughtfully positioned lighting are mixed-media sculptures by Andrew Myers, botanical subjects by Thomas Brummett and more mixed media by Erik Gonzales, who is on-hand to discuss his work. He wears, as I imagine an artist should, an intricately knotted scarf and talks with his hands.

Upstairs, the exhibit New Millennials features works by Olga Minkevitch and Heather Protz, among others. I’m overjoyed to find Minkevitch’s photos self-explanatory, like the light switch just out of a disembodied arm’s reach in “Beyond Reach” and the woman on the floor in “Aftermath.” Allowing myself to editorialize, I imagine that her lover has left her there, prostrate, naked in the foyer of her well-appointed flat. Or maybe she was just broken up with via text message. Honey, I know the feeling.

I’m instantly drawn to Protz’s piece “X-Girl” (for obvious and purely vain reasons) which features snippets of Protz’ photography that are by themselves unremarkable but when combined, form a piece that is unmistakably Vegas. I want to ask questions but director Victoria Hart is engaged in a lengthy conversation with a stern-faced couple who clearly comprehend words like “composition” and “form.” Beads of sweat break out on my temples. Seizing the opportunity to actually speak with the art’s maker, I find Protz to be an affable local professor with unending patience for us artless mortals. “I like the idea of documenting places in time and history,” Protz says. Hey, me too!

She gives me sage advice—“Any piece you look at, you’re going to want to spend at least 20 minutes with it,”—and cautions, “A lot of art is written by the critic, not by the artist.” I make note of both and head to the main event, the two-year anniversary of Up All Day’s monthly Expose art party at the Bellagio’s Caramel Lounge.

There, painter Niki J. Sands is showing pieces from a number of collections, most of which seem to hover along Caramel’s perimeter, having been hung with fishing line from nails just out of view. The lighting has been carefully arranged to make the most of the dark, square lounge and of Sands’ vibrant, moving acrylic and oil paintings.

A Vegas resident for 13 years now, Sands says Aaron Righellis’ Expose is a great chance for artists to show their work on the Strip. Together we regard her cubist-style figures: "I love faces," she says, letting her eye fall first on one Mediterranean-looking face, then the next. I point to a woman alone in bed. "She represents solitude and spirituality." One quirky couple, a fish monger and his wife, were just completed a week ago. "I love my fish people,” Sands says, laughing merrily, then growing serious. "I listen to a lot of Latin and world music." Between that and her Greek heritage it’s easy to see where the influences of music have crept in. She makes a gift of a signed print “Musica” to me. And finally, pointing to “Sunrise,” a strong painting of a black woman with her eyes closed, “That's my proudest painting. She’s just so … real."

I return again and again to “I Am an Open Book,” which depicts a fully clothed man and a completely naked woman, launching a discussion about relationships. “I really sat with that one,” Sands says of the sad-eyed girl in “Prisoner of the Heart.” “I was sad to let that one go.”

In “Pears in a Bowl,” there is as much empty space next to the bowl as space taken up by the bowl itself, as if to say that the lack of something can be as important as its existence. (“Whoa! What’s in this wine?!”) I’m not a fangirl quite yet, but I’m definitely feeling an emotional response of a sort. Of course, it is at precisely that moment that the lights dim and art appreciation gives way to a DJ and the important business of getting to know your neighbors in the dark.

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