Vegas gambles on public art

Nancy Rubins' "Big Edge" provides an burst of color to CityCenter.

"Big Edge" provides an burst of color to CityCenter.

By Jorge Labrador

There is a new wave of headliners in Las Vegas.

You won’t see their names on the Las Vegas Strip’s big marquees, even though some of them are known around the world. You won’t find them in the city’s showrooms, theaters or lounges. Instead, you can find their craft on the streets, hotel lobbies and garages throughout the city.

Why these venues and not something with a stage and stadium seating? Because these aren’t comedians, singers or even magicians: they’re artists. The work of big names like Klaus Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Henry Moore, along with rising stars Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf and others are breathing some life into Las Vegas’ public spaces.

There’s a enough public art in and around the city to make a fun trip out of seeing it all, and the best part is that you don’t have to buy tickets.


Henry Moore’s “Reclining Connected Forms” is featured in an outdoor area between Crystals and Aria.

Henry Moore’s “Reclining Connected Forms” is featured in an outdoor area between Crystals and Aria. Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International.

CityCenter’s unique architecture isn’t the only artsy aspect of the neighborhood. Home to The Gallery at CityCenter, a branch of The Art of Richard MacDonald gallery and property-wide Fine Art Collection, CityCenter is a must-see destination.

“It is a landmark of global taste and style,” said MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren of the Fine Art Collection, which features the work of internationally-recognized artists Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Nancy Rubins, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Frank Stella, Henry Moore and Richard Long, among others.

“The Fine Art Collection is the first initiative of its kind to merge public and corporate interests on this grand scale, and we’re proud to deliver this prominent force in contemporary art and culture to Las Vegas.”

The collection lives up to the “grand scale” description. Located near the main entrance to Vdara, guests will likely notice Rubins’ “Big Edge” first. An explosion of colorful rowboats and canoes, “Big Edge” forms what the artist calls “a blooming flower” that is 51 feet high, 57 feet wide and 75 feet long.

Behind Vdara’s reception desk, you can spot Stella’s “Damascus Gate Variation I,” a series of connected semicircles on an irregular 32-foot-long canvas, while in the concierge lobby, you can find Peter Wegner’s “Day for Night, Night for Day,” a two-part work with a solar and lunar theme.

Typewriter Scale X by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

Typewriter Scale X by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International.

Suspended above Aria’s registration desk and overlooking the window facing City Center’s main entrance, Lin’s “Silver River” portrays the topography of the Colorado River and the choice of material represents “The Silver State,” Nevada. In the self-park entrance lobby, guests encounter Tony Cragg’s “Bolt,” “Bent of Mind” and “Untitled,” stainless steel sculptures swirling upwards in imaginative, yet familiar forms.

“I always wondered what they were. It definitely gets people thinking and talking,” said Jennifer Woods, a Las Vegas-area resident who was struck by Tony Cragg’s work. She said she enjoyed going out of her way to photograph the art displays she had found inside the resort.

“It’s really different. I like that they have a few of these things around because you don’t see [many] interesting displays like this in town.”

The installation that likely turns the most heads is located right near the Mandarin Oriental hotel and Crystals shopping center. Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” is a four-ton, 19-foot tall sculpture of a giant red typewriter eraser, with blue bristles seemingly flailing upward. This is the largest of the artist’s “Typewriter Eraser” series. This is the second Oldenburg and van Bruggen sculpture in Vegas, the other is “Flashlight” at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Located in Crystals, The Gallery at CityCenter highlights the work of Dale Chihuly, whose work has been exhibited around the world – his other famous Vegas exhibit is “Fiori di Como,” which adorns the Bellagio’s main lobby ceiling. The Gallery features “Silvered Venetian,” Chihuly’s first use of silver as a base color, along with his iconic large scale glass sculptures.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Doreen Remen would love for Las Vegas to become an international art destination.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas features works by noted artists in it’s parking garage including this piece by RETNA.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas features works by noted artists in it’s parking garage including this piece by RETNA.

Remen is the co-founder of the New York-based Art Production Fund, the non-profit organization that has teamed with The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to produce and curate the unique art programs at the resort.

“It’s the perfect venue for our mission, to get art out to a wide audience,” said Remen.

“The Cosmopolitan invited us to help develop an entire art program, to provide guests with a cultural experience that was authentic and alive and integrated into the experience with the casino.”

Like its neighbors at CityCenter, the recently-opened Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas showcases a variety of art in every medium, featuring something for every taste.

Z. Migdal’s “The Cosmo Wave” is a kinetic work featuring crimson bands scattering across the wall along the way to one of the resort’s meeting rooms. There’s also M. Chatterly’s “Gathering,” five ceramic dogs, about five feet tall each, assembled in a circle – no, they aren’t playing poker – in the middle of an otherwise ordinary lounge area. There’s a lot to of art to be found throughout the resort, and The Cosmopolitan intends on changing the art lineup frequently.

“It’s pretty interesting,” said Kim Griggs, a visitor from Nebraska. “You don’t see stuff like this outside of a museum so it’s nice that you can see this stuff on the way to the bar or the stores here.”

Although he said he had noticed some of the resort’s other works, it was “Cosmo Wave” that caught Griggs’ eye the most.

“It’s all very showy, but it’s not what I expected from Vegas. It’s more interesting that way.”

You can’t even park at The Cosmopolitan without seeing a few works of art along the way. Each floor of the resort’s parking garage features décor in the form of “Wallworks,” a series of murals showcasing art from prominent graffiti artists: Shepard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, Shinique Smith and RETNA. Upon strolling in from the garage and through the hotel lobby, guests are treated to LED art projected on huge columns, including art from Yoko Ono and TJ Wilcox.

“A casino is a highly public space, but having the art around while you’re doing the regular activities like gambling or hanging out at bar definitely creates a different relationship with the art,” Remen said.

“The art is accessible both conceptually and physically. You don’t need a degree in art history just to appreciate the work, you can appreciate it on one level, which might just be entertainment. You don’t have to go out of your way to see it, you can just look up and see a piece and it opens up your perception.”

Eventually, you may be able to take some of the art with you. Remen said there are plans for artists to produced take-home pieces of art on canvasses, beach towels, water bottles and other objects. The resort already has Art-o-mat machines, repurposed cigarette vending machines that sell small pieces of art for $5, which would be nicely complemented by these plans.

The possibilities the Cosmopolitan’s art presents are exciting, said Remen.

“We’re continuing with changing the video columns and the marquee. The artist-in-residence is continually changing. Hopefully it becomes a art destination,” she said.

“You don’t really find places like [Las Vegas] that are just completely open and unpredictable and you don’t know who is going to be there and it’s just exciting to be able to expose that massive audience to this culture.”

The Bellagio

The Bellagio is known for its Fine Art Gallery, but visitors also have the opportunity to take in some publicly displayed art at this resort as well.

Chihuly’s “Fiori di Como” is one of the first things many guests at the Bellagio see. The vivid three-dimensional glass sculptures of blooming flowers adorn the ceiling of the hotel lobby. It’s impossible to pass by and not see a crowd of visitors taking photos of the ceiling.

The Bellagio is also home to The Art of Richard MacDonald, showcasing the world-famous artist’s bronze sculptures and sketches. One location is inside the “O” Theater Lobby and another, more intimate gallery is located at the Via Fiore, near the hotel lobby.

Most of the works on display at this gallery, which is a cooperation between MacDonald and Cirque du Soleil, share many thematic similarities with Cirque’s shows, celebrating the human form and grace of dancers and acrobats and reaffirming “all that is best in humanity.”

Off the Strip

From the giant “Flashlight” at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the massive paintbrushes in the Arts District to the Art-Deco inspired figures adorning Hoover Dam, there’s much more public art from acclaimed artists beyond The Strip.


Located about a mile from the Fremont Street Experience on Charleston Boulevard at the Art Street and Fourth Street corners, these two 45-foot tall metal brushes by Dennis Oppenheim are recent additions, installed in the summer of 2010. The two brushes are lined with light bulbs and the current plan is for them to light up and illuminate a path across Las Vegas’ Arts District. Although this aspect has been delayed as the local utility company works out maintenance details, it’s worthwhile to visit the brushes during the daytime to appreciate the metalwork – and while you’re in the Arts District, you’ll have plenty of other sights to take in.


Oldenburg and van Coosje's Flashlight. Photo courtesy of UNLV Public Affairs.

Oldenburg and van Bruggen's Flashlight. Photo courtesy of UNLV Public Affairs.

There’s a celebration in store for the 30th anniversary of one of Vegas’ oldest major examples of public art.

Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s “Flashlight,” located on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is a 38-foot-tall, 74,000-pound structure made up of 24 pitch-black steel fins around a central cylinder. At night, lights buried in the ground beneath the “Flashlight” glow gently. During the day, the deep, matte black paint of the “Flashlight” extends “a piece of the night into the day,” according to the artists.

“‘Flashlight’ is one of the first public pieces they did and it’s always mentioned when people discuss [Oldenburg and van Bruggen],” said Jerry Schefcik, the Director of UNLV’s Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery. “That we have [an Oldenburg/van Bruggen piece] here in Las Vegas, on the university campus is outstanding. Not many campuses can say that.”

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the university recently called for artists to submit works in response to this pop art icon. “It’s been a while since anything was done about it,” Schefcik said. “We wanted to bring a little more attention to it.”

Submissions include deviations and modifications of “Flashlight,” along with works that reference it directly or are inspired by it.

“[Some responses] deal with ideas and attitudes that are interpretive of the ‘Flashlight.’ Some simply turn something minimal into something monumental, [like ‘Flashlight’],” Schefcik said.

Oldenburg and van Bruggen themselves diverged from the original concept, which had “Flashlight” illuminating the night sky with a pillar of light. They thought that was too cliché, so Oldenburg and van Bruggen decided to have the top of the “Flashlight” pointing at the ground.

“Art is sometimes controversial. This was controversial, but people accepted it eventually,” Schefcik said.

“There’s a little bit of humor and satire. A tongue-in-cheek approach. Serious, but not that serious… it’s something to be enjoyed.”

“Flashlight” is located on the UNLV campus, between the Artemus W. Ham concert hall and the Judy Bailey Theater. An exhibit of artist responses to “Flashlight” will be on display from Jan. 20 – Feb. 26 at the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery on UNLV’s campus. The exhibit will be open to the public.

If you have even the slightest interest in art, you need to stop by to see this iconic piece when in Las Vegas.

“We do get the occasional out-of-town visitor and they usually say they were very happy they had the chance to see the ‘Flashlight,’” Schefcik said.

The Neon Museum

Who would have thought that neon signs beckoning passers-by to come in and part with their money would one day be considered works of art worthy of public display?

Although these ten neon works started their lives as advertisements, they’ve found new purpose as part of the Neon Museum’s downtown gallery.

“These are cultural icons of Las Vegas history and of pop culture in Las Vegas,” said Schefcik.

This self-guided walking tour showcases the 1967 Hacienda Horse and Rider, the 1940 sign for the Chief Court Hotel, the lamp from the original Aladdin Hotel (from 1966) and the Nevada Motel sign from 1950 – the first sign to feature Las Vegas’ famous neon cowboy mascot, Vegas Vic.

“[The displays] are Vegas and it would be a tragedy for that stuff to go away. You would lose an important part of the history of the city,” Schefcik said. “In any museum, the objects in there were once utilitarian and really, these are no exception.”

Boulder City Public Art Scape

Boulder City is about a 30-minute drive away from Las Vegas, but the town that was home to the workers who built Hoover Dam feels worlds apart from Sin City. If that isn’t reason enough to pique your curiosity, the Boulder City Public Art Scape program has selected a series of sculptures to adorn the sidewalks and other public spaces of the downtown area, including some near the historic Boulder Dam Hotel.

These works, which run the gamut from familiar symbols and human forms to abstract representations, are on display for one year and then the entire exhibition is changed, so there will always be something new. The official BCPAS website offers a map of the self-guided walking tour of this year’s sculptures at:

Hoover Dam

Tourists walk past the outdoor sculpture titled "Winged Figures of the Republic" at the Hoover Dam. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Sun/Sam Morris

Tourists walk past the outdoor sculpture titled "Winged Figures of the Republic" at the Hoover Dam. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Sun/Sam Morris

Hoover Dam was designed with aesthetics in mind, so it’s only appropriate that it showcases some great examples of public art. Norwegian artist Oskar Hansen designed many sculptures in and around the dam, including the dedication plaza’s famous “Winged Figures of the Republic,” 30-foot tall bronze statues representing the “eternal vigilance which is the price of liberty.” Also visible from the plaza is a star map, which preserves the exact moment in which the dam was dedicated.

Hansen’s work is also visible in the plaque, which memorializes the workers who died in constructing the dam and the bas-reliefs adorning the Arizona and Nevada elevator shafts, which each tell a story that represents the region’s history and future, respectively.

Compared to Hansen’s work, the “high scaler” monument is a relatively recent addition. Designed by local sculptor Steven Liguori, this larger-than-life statue was erected in 2000. The statue represents Joe Kine, one of the “high scalers” who worked to remove loose rock high above the canyon during the dam’s construction.

It can be found, appropriately, near the dam’s “High Scaler Café.”