Las Vegas Sun

July 5, 2022

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Downtown Las Vegas:

Two big departures from the local art scene

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LAS VEGAS SUN file

Contemporary art gallery owner Naomi Arin plans to take her business to Laguna Beach, Calif., where she says the market is better.

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Beate Kirmse, who is credited with reigniting the Contemporary Arts Center's relationship with UNLV, has resigned as executive director.

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Naomi Arin, owner of one of the most significant contemporary art galleries in Las Vegas, is moving to California, creating another huge hole in the local art scene.

Naomi Arin Contemporary Art is the only local gallery in town to feature internationally known early and midcareer cutting-edge artists, showing works by Mickalene Thomas, Adi Nes, Nir Hod, Gideon Rubin, Venske & Spanle and others.

The most recent — an impressive collection of portraits in felt and string by James Gobel.

Polly Apfelbaum is at the gallery this week installing her exhibit “Black Vegas and Fool’s Gold.” That will be the last show. Arin is closing the gallery June 30 and moving the operation to Laguna Beach, Calif., a cozy little beach town known for galleries specializing in commercial and decorative art.

Her departure comes four months after the Las Vegas Art Museum closed its doors and Finnish businessman and art collector Poju Zabludowicz withdrew his proposal to build a museum on East Fremont Street that would house a massive installation by British artist Keith Tyson. At the same time, Mayor Oscar Goodman said downtown Las Vegas doesn’t need an art museum, that locals can fly to Los Angeles to see art.

“Instead of growing, we’re depleting,” says Libby Lumpkin, former executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum, whose first gig in town was curating Steve Wynn’s collection for the Bellagio.

“Naomi’s gallery was a real great asset and a great place for collectors to start serious collections. Gallerists don’t get the credit they deserve. The presence of sophisticated contemporary art galleries put Los Angeles on the map, more so than its art museums.”

Arin opened Dust Gallery in the Arts Factory in 2003 with Jerry Misko. She moved the gallery to Main Street a year later and to the space in SoHo Lofts on Las Vegas Boulevard at Hoover Avenue in 2008. At that time, she changed the gallery’s name, merged it with her consulting and advisory service and switched its hours to appointment only.

Her gallery, which focuses exclusively on innovative fine art, likely will stand out from other galleries in Laguna Beach. And Arin says the market there is better.

“For a while, if I put up a show and nobody saw it, that was fine with me because I was doing what I wanted, but I’m putting up amazing shows and it’s gotten to the point where I want people to come,” Arin says. “The Mickalene Thomas exhibit, that was colossal. She’s like a superstar. Here’s a person that every major collection in the world is buying and she comes to Las Vegas and there’s hardly anybody at the opening.”

Another departure from the local art scene will be Beate Kirmse, executive director of the Contemporary Arts Center. She is resigning as of May 31 and will move to California.

Kirmse moved to Las Vegas from New York City, where she was working as a business consultant, and started at the nonprofit Contemporary Arts Center in September 2007. She was hired to make the 20-year-old organization more professional and didn’t plan to stay forever. While here, she changed the name and the mission, reignited its relationship with UNLV and became known as a consummate promoter of the arts center.

“For me Vegas was very good and I learned a lot,” Kirmse says. “Eventually I’d like to open my own gallery. If I wanted to make a bigger career out of it, it would be better to be in L.A.”

Departures and closures are always a disappointment, says Marty Walsh, whose Trifecta Gallery sells fine-art-driven contemporary and narrative works with an edge.

“The art scene is definitely not dying in Las Vegas,” she says. “It’s just an opportunity for it to reinvent itself.

“I’m more energized than ever because there are a few artists coming out of UNLV that I’m really excited about. I’m trying different things and reaching out further afield. I just signed an artist from Uruguay. I’m committed. The gallery sustains itself.”

Even Lumpkin, who saw her efforts at the Las Vegas Art Museum fall apart in the poor economy, shows a glimmer of optimism: “The visual arts scene here is not doing well. But CityCenter will open up. Fontainebleau will open up and there will be more things to look at.”

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