Visitors love the glitz of the Las Vegas Strip, with all its casinos, mega-resorts and flashing neon. But Steve Wynn added a dose of sophistication in 1998 when he opened a fine art gallery inside the Bellagio casino resort. Since then, Vegas has become a thriving arts center. Here, our short list of don’t-miss spots.
THE JUMP START
When it opened 12 years ago, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art quickly became Vegas’s premier exhibition space, displaying pieces from some of the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections. Nine paintings and eight ceramic pieces by Picasso are on permanent display in the hotel’s two-Michelin-star restaurant, appropriately named Picasso. No idle strolling, though: Reservations are required to get through the door.
The Bellagio may have been first, but its new neighbor, the CityCenter complex (citycenter.com), stole some of the limelight when it launched its Fine Art Collection in 2009—at a cost of some $40 million. With 15 major installations by international artists, this is Vegas’s first permanent collection of contemporary art in a public space (and one of the largest corporate collections in the world). The collection ranges from sculptures and paintings to oversized pieces custom-designed to fit the indoor and outdoor spaces of CityCenter’s walkways, hotels and residences. Look for Maya Lin’s 84-foot representation of the Colorado River—made entirely of reclaimed silver—hanging above the front desk at ARIA Hotel and Casino. Among the other pieces worth seeking out: Vegas, by Jenny Holzer, a 266-foot-high wall of LED lights and scrolling proverbs at ARIA’s north valet pickup, and Nancy Rubins’s Big Edge, a flower-like burst of aluminum and stainless steel canoes, rowboats and kayaks lashed together and suspended above the Vdara Hotel and Spa’s main drive. The best part of CityCenter’s collection: You can view the works for free at any hour of the day.
Just four miles north of the Strip, a different art culture is emerging—one that’s more intimate, offbeat and community-focused. The 18b Arts District (named after the 18-block downtown radius) is the hub, with working studios and small galleries constantly sprouting up. You can take it all in during First Friday, an art walk that draws as many as 10,000 visitors and locals on the first Friday of every month (firstfriday-lasvegas.org).
The district isn’t run by millionaires or big corporations, but by local artists taking a DIY approach to expanding the city’s cultural roots. To locate the neighborhood, look for the new 45-foot-tall paintbrushes that form a gateway across Charleston Boulevard at 4th Street and Casino Center Drive (the brushes are more evident after dark, when they emit 2,000-foot strokes of rainbow-colored lights into the sky, but visitors should come during the day when the galleries are open).
The Arts Factory’s 18 working studios and four common galleries are home to contemporary paintings, 3D sculptures, photography and more. Stop for a panini and glass of wine at the on-site Bar + Bistro, where the art on the walls is curated by Marty Walsh—check out the art menu for prices. Walsh’s own gallery, Trifecta, rotates works by young and established artists and sells funky gifts like glazed glass donuts and amusing pewter sculptures. While the building remains open all week, many galleries close their doors on Sundays and Mondays.
Just four blocks away is the Southern Nevada Center for the Arts, where a collaborative group of 29 artists (sculptors, jewelers, potters, a dance company) can be seen at work in the 18 studios. The 12,000-square-foot facility includes a 150-seat performance space that hosts community events in addition to opera, rock, jazz and fashion shows. You’ll find a whole new side of Vegas in this less-visited part of town.
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