Sunday, July 07, 2013


Las Vegas (the product) is a deadening context for art. With its glaringly- and shamelessly-huge carbon footprint, casinos that radicalize how low human beings can fall, reactionary presence of second-hand smoke, the fragile line between dream and disillusion, such fakeness that even the fake is fake! (see Michelangelo's "David" below) ... one can go on. But the all of it creates an environment where, ironically, the art that successfully struggles against its context -- rises above it, if you will -- shows itself to be great art.

The artworks that gets subsumed into interior decoration for the city's, uh, fake cities ... reveal themselves to be poorer quality artworks.

In this sense, Las Vegas -- by being a deadening context -- also becomes a bottom-line judge revealing whether the art works commissioned from many name contemporary artists are effective.  Only the strongest, really, can withstand being brought down from "fine" art to something ... lower.

Let's cut to the chase: the winner of Best Las Vegas Artwork by totally repelling the sheen Las Vegas would coat over it is a sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero -- here is a bad Iphone shot of it. It was placed by the entrance of a restaurant called (but of course) "Botero" so that's as kitschy a placement as can be. But its setting didn't matter. Botero just shrugged it off to retain its powerful magnificence. The art work retains its soul:

So, what didn't show up as well? Well... sigh: so many choices ... Lessee:

Viola Frey. She had an oversized vase. It's probably a better piece than as presented in its Las Vegas context where it just became an expensive part of hallway decor:

Dale Chihuly. Gorgeous ceiling work ... that, in Las Vegas, just becomes (like Viola Frey) interior decoration, unable (unlike Botero's) to rise above its context:

In other words, the fine art of artists like Frey and Chihuly came off no better than the pretty stuff made to decorate, like this peacock in some storefront:

Another way of putting it perhaps is that it's like the artworks got their souls hollowed out, like this metal sculpture in a home decor store:

Well, but what does one expect of Las Vegas developers who'd put up something like this statue re "The Judgment of Paris" (or "Three Muses," can't really tell and it didn't seem to matter in Vegas) with the impact of faded wallpaper?

or this reproduction of Michelangelo's "David" in Caesar's Palace? Hello? Dear Real Estate Developer -- Please hire a historian as a consultant if you're going to insert historical figures within your themes: Michelangelo, of course, sculpted "David" only about 1,500 years after Caesar ... (or mebbe I'm too tough: those ancient sculptures all look alike, after all...)

Nonetheless, if one is to take an architectural perspective (i.e., context/environment matters), one could argue that Jeff Koons' "Tulips" sculpture is quite successful. Koons' reproduction of flowers using high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating befits the maximized artificiality of Las Vegas (again, I'm talking Las Vegas the product, not its locals):

I could argue that, but even Koons was not immune to Las Vegas' deadening prettifying-for-the-tourists. "Tulips" would have been more effective visually were it not placed beneath a ceiling stupidly decorated with oversized, garishly red butterflies. Waaaay too much make-up, people!

It's apt to see this sculpture by J. Seward Johnson. It's fine work.  But the significance of context rears its head up again to the loss of the artwork. When seen with eyes glazed by Las Vegas' banality, second-hand smoke, and having just witnessed one of Las Vegas workers ending her shift with a tired face, limp casino uniform and undoubtedly hurting feet, the sculpture's pathos ends up clichetic rather than powerful.

I usually think it wonderful when artworks are taken out of the art gallery to be placed in non-gallery settings. In this case, several of these art works would benefit by being returned to the soothing white walled boxes of a gallery -- the problem, of course, is that they were for sale. And were sold and bought. Metaphorically, it's just like this statue below -- rather, a human being paid to become a fake statue:


Having said all that, the poet-critic Thomas Fink had observed to me that visiting Las Vegas could/would be good for my poetry. Since I've returned from this trip, I agree even as I don't yet know what this means. It seems synchronistic, though, as I am working on a manuscript entitled MICHEL'S REPRODUCTIONS OF THE LOST FLAG. Well, I just hope it won't turn me (back) to that poet's drink (and wonderful Las Vegas show), "Absinthe" ...  I've done that poetic research and, as with Las Vegas the Product, am glad I'm over it:

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