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The art in Las Vegas casinos is a bet to draw crowds

Can topless revues and video poker compete with the works of Picasso and Renoir? Will the same crowds that rush to see fighting pirates, dancing water fountains, and erupting volcanoes flock to a museum exhibit?

The hotels in Las Vegas are placing a wager.

Not lounge act impersonators or magicians with white tigers are the newest forms of entertainment to take the stage on the Las Vegas Strip. Fine art, that is.

The president of the Venetian hotel-casino, Rob Goldstein, says that while it is a gamble, it is an informed one. We enjoy the odds.

This is so that developer Steve Wynn, the previous owner of Mirage Resorts Inc., could profit when he displayed his personal art collection at the opulent Bellagio hotel-casino in 1998. He had staked a fortune on the theory that tourists might be in the mood for some culture once they had had their fill of free drinks, inexpensive buffets, and nickel slots.

And tourists are still drawn to the arts. They flocked to the Rio hotel-“Treasures casino’s of Russia” exhibit last year.

I’m thrilled to be a catalyst, says Wynn. “This is a major change. This won’t go away anytime soon.

Not if the lengthy queues of tourists entering to view works by Monet and van Gogh in shorts and Hawaiian shirts are any indication.

That is what drove Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Venetian, and Thomas Krens, chairman of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, to work together to bring the Guggenheim-Hermitage museums to the Strip. The resort will debut two different galleries in September.

The smaller museum, one of two by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, was created in partnership with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Guggenheim-Hermitage, also known as the “Jewel Box,” is just outside the opulent Venetian’s lobby and will host smaller-scale exhibits like early Picasso pieces and Faberge eggs. Impressionist and early modern masterworks from both institutions will be on display in the first exhibition.

Plans call for a 63,700-square-foot structure between the hotel’s casino and the parking garage for larger traveling exhibits. The opening display will be “The Art of the Motorcycle,” a BMW-sponsored exhibition that made its debut in 1998 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The center would join the Guggenheim branches in New York, Berlin, Venice, Italy, and Bilbao, Spain as the world’s sixth location.

Many people are still dubious about the project, which was supposed to be finished this spring, as a result of Krens’ decision to build a museum in Las Vegas. Krens has become controversial in the art world.

According to art critic and University of Nevada–Las Vegas professor Dave Hickey, “We need more motorcycles like we need more hookers.” But he acknowledges that having the Hermitage in town will benefit a neighborhood looking for substance.

Despite its widespread fame, few consider Las Vegas to be on par with cities like Berlin, Venice, and New York in terms of culture.

Krens admits that “the fact that it is based in Las Vegas is kind of stirring things up.”

However, he claims that those in the art world shouldn’t dismiss the glitz, glitter, and glamour of the Strip so quickly. The “O” at the Bellagio and even magic performances like “Siegfried & Roy” at the Mirage should be admired.

According to Krens, they’re all about cultural expression.

Exposing people to the fine arts must be seen as a positive, according to David Carver, president of the Las Vegas Art Museum, even if they are being used to draw people to casinos.

The arts have not kept up with our rapid growth, he claims. “Anything that exposes people to the fine arts here is worthwhile. Let them go. More is better, right?

Oscar Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, avoids making any mention of the period before the rebirth and instead views it as a period of artistic and cultural renaissance.

Like they do now to gamble in our casinos and watch our shows, people will be queuing up to visit our museums and galleries, predicts Goodman.

Bringing fine art to the Strip, according to experts in the gambling industry, is a logical progression as the city develops and broadens its appeal from a narrow gambling focus.

Bill Thompson, a professor of public administration at UNLV and a gambling industry expert, says that Las Vegas has more live entertainment than the combined populations of New York, London, and Los Angeles. It’s a direction Las Vegas should take. We get world-class as a result.

Because of this, Krens continues to believe that after the museum opens, the criticism will quickly fade. And jealousy will take its place.

And makes money, he hopes.

According to Krens, the Guggenheim could bring in $15 million annually for both his foundation and the Hermitage; the $7.5 million cut going to the Hermitage would be significant for a museum that currently only receives $7 million in endowments.

His marketing strategy is basic. Krens argues that setting up shop in Las Vegas, with its ready-made audience of 36 million annual visitors, will enable him to reach people much more effectively than organizing traveling Guggenheim exhibits that travel from city to city in search of audiences.

And that is perfect for tourism officials.

According to Erika Brandvik of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority, “We are looking to appeal to the type of person who wouldn’t have considered coming to Las Vegas in the past.” “People who thought we were just cheap buffets and nickel slots are taking notice because we are getting some renowned artworks.”

The idea of an art gallery in a casino resort persisted even after Wynn left and MGM Mirage sold some of his masterpieces to reduce debt. If you want to practice your gaming skills before heading to Vegas, check out for online casino games you can play at home.

According to Bobby Baldwin, president and CEO of the business’ Mirage division, “sophisticated audiences with a variety of needs and interests have created a market for culturally rich experiences in Las Vegas.”

According to the estimated 1,000 visitors daily who have come to the Bellagio Museum of Fine Arts’ Phillips Collection exhibit, which debuted in September with 26 pieces, the market is there. The collection included works by Edward Hopper, an ancient El Greco, and a Paul Cezanne self-portrait.

In addition, people feel more at ease viewing art while dressed casually for a vacation, according to gallery director Kathleen Clewell, and they are less intimidated by a large museum like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Last month, Phillips ended operations to make room for Steve Martin’s personal art collection, an actor, comedian, and author. Both exhibits donate their net earnings to charity.

Martin’s five-month exhibition is the first time his collection of 28 works by artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper has been seen by the general public.

The location is quite lovely, and it’s a nice, cozy space for what I have, says Martin. It stands in stark contrast to Vegas’ jazzy atmosphere.

Martin Mull, an actor and artist whose work is on display in Martin’s collection, likened the fine art scene in Las Vegas to that of an Akron symphony orchestra.

He claims, “It’s not where you would expect to find it.”

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