Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fine Art in Las Vegas: What are the odds?

If you live in Arizona, as I do, and drive north, you will find that eventually the road is blocked by the Grand Canyon. You have to go around. I went west, to Las Vegas, so I could continue from there, up north into Utah. Las Vegas was the last outpost of so-called civilization in that region so I stayed overnight and half a day, to rest up. Got a room in a major casino hotel for under $50. I don’t gamble, so I felt pretty smug that I had beat that pricing system.

But they did get me for $25 for admission to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. It’s a small space, showing perhaps three dozen paintings at the most. The show I saw was called “A Sense of Place: Landscapes from Monet to Hockney." It had numerous artists from widely varying times and places, but all the pictures addressed the show’s theme. Pieces were on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.

How could that work? You might wonder what 19th century impressionism has in common with 20th century abstraction and precise representationalism. The answer is curation. This show is all heavily influenced by the skill and sensibility of the gallery’s curator who was not identified, but could have been Tarissa Tiberti, the gallery’s director.

Monet’s 1885 Haystacks at Giverney, for example are hung next to photographer Skeet McAuley’s 2001 image of golf course greens, and you notice that both scenes are quiet, sun-drenched, and both convey a strong sense of open space, and above all, a sense of place. The juxtaposition gives brilliant insight into both works.

My favorite juxtaposition was David Hockney’s intensely colorful "Garrowby Hill" (1998), hung next Torben Giehler’s 1999 "Boogie Woogie," a Mondrianesque abstract gridwork. And again, the juxtaposition makes you see both works in a new light, in this case, as aerial views of landscapes, and again you appreciate the sense of place conveyed by both.

Other artists in the show were Marc Chagall, Helen Frankenthaler, David Hockney, Robert Rauchenberg, Lichtenstein, Millet, Christo,Vik Muniz, and many others unknown to me before this show.

I spent over an hour in the small gallery going around and around the tight circuit, learning more each time. Each piece is a beautiful masterwork in its own right, but their creative and playful juxtapositions added a surprising new level of understanding.

This was not the sort of thing I expected to discover in Sin City. But I’m glad I paused there long enough to see it. See http://www.bellagio.com/files/exhibition-brochure.pdf. The show runs through January, 2012.
(Sisely on the right here)

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