The Art of Sin City

Focus on the Strip’s abundant fine art to see a very different side of Vegas

I’m coming to Vegas soon. I’d like to see a different side of the city—but don’t want too much hassle. What’ve you got for me?

Art. Yes, you heard me: art! Can’t get much more different than that—art is probably one of the last things you associate with Sin City, am I right? But there’s a surprising amount of it here, and a surprising amount that’s top-shelf, and you don’t even need to leave the Strip to see it. Next time you’re in Caesars, for example, take note of the old-school statuary. Emperors, goddesses … yeah, that sure looks like a frieze of the Rape of the Sabine Women. Not your usual gambling backdrop. Caesars is encrusted in that stuff.

Cool. But I’m a little more … contemporary.

Even better! That means there’s even more to see—and think about. If you happen to be in town on Oct. 10, $43 will get you onto an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. tour of the visual art clustered in the mid-Strip area, from the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art to the rampant exhibits at CityCenter and the Cosmopolitan, to, finally, the stunning and acclaimed James Turrell installation, Akhob. (Call 702-455-7340 for details.) “I’m hoping that the experience will help participants to reframe their notions about the art they encounter, and to see the larger context of the Strip in a different way,” says artist Mark Brandvik, who’ll lead the tour. He notes that the Strip itself is often presented in art terms, as a massive, collective work of installation art. “Does the ‘real’ art there reinforce this notion or help to draw clearer distinctions?”

What kind of work would I see?

The show now at the Bellagio Gallery (through Oct. 17) is titled Painting Women, a historical retrospective that, to quote one reviewer, “successfully highlights the struggle of women artists to gain equal recognition.” So it’s rather timely given the extent to which gender politics has been woven into the public dialogue lately. (Coming in November: Faberge eggs.) At CityCenter, you can see pieces by such blue-chip art stars as Claes Oldenberg, Jenny Holzer, Frank Stella, Henry Moore and Maya Lin. These are pieces that would be at home in practically any museum, yet they’re scattered around the CityCenter grounds. Likewise the Cosmopolitan, where the art extends to the parking garages; it also houses the P3 Studio, in which artists work on interactive pieces with the help of visitors.

And Turrell?

Turrell’s Akhob is a perfect Vegas mashup of highbrow and low: an exquisite 1,200 square-foot installation of beautiful light and dramatic showers of color … in a Louis Vuitton store at a high-end mall. We’ve been in a bit of a Turrell moment lately, with his big LACMA show, which earlier this year, and admiring press everywhere—another reason to take in Akhob. “From my experience,” Brandvik says, “the installation provides a quiet respite from the cacophony above, while slightly altering my subsequent view of the outside world.”

Sadly, I won’t be in Las Vegas in time to take the tour.

No problem. You can see it all anyway, on your own schedule (you have to call ahead for reservations to see Akhob, 702- 730-3150). You’ll get a different sense of Vegas—a quiet respite from the cacophony, without having to venture too far from the cacophony.