For decades now, Las Vegas hoteliers have been caught between two competing impulses when it comes to building and furnishing their resorts. Some have made an effort to distinguish their establishments from the more tawdry, gimmicky aspects of the city’s past, by erecting modern, luxurious structures and filling them with fine art. You’ll recall in the George Clooney version of “Ocean’s Eleven” that Andy Garcia’s character, based in part on Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn, was amassing a collection of Impressionist and early Modern paintings, which he displays in his hotel’s museum.
Of course, this effort to appear high-brow hasn’t stopped the ongoing construction of tacky pastiches alongside those hotels that try to position themselves as being both popular entertainment and high culture destinations. There’s the Luxor, for example, which features a gigantic steel-and-glass pyramid guarded by a monumental concrete sphinx; the Venetian, where one can take gondola rides through recreations of spots located in La Serenissima; resorts designed to look like New York or Paris, and so on. The resulting jumble is rather bizarre, with sleek towers that would look perfectly at home in Hong Kong planted next to white elephants that look like remnants of old Atlantic City: high design living cheek-by-jowl with absolute kitsch.
More recently, the Palms Casino-Resort in Vegas has been making an effort to brand itself as *the* spot for Contemporary Art vacationers to stay when visiting Sin City. Now, in addition to the street art-themed restaurant containing works by Banksy and others which I reported on recently, the hotel has acquired Damien Hirst’s colossal 60-foot tall “Demon with Bowl” (2014), which will tower over several of the resort’s swimming pools. The piece was arguably the showstopper at Hirst’s 2017 exhibition “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, a show imagining a fusion of ancient art and pop culture that was panned by many critics, but which seemed more interesting, at least in its humorous and inventive aspects, than many of the shows championed by the black turtleneck brigade.
Whereas for logistical reasons the sculpture that appeared so memorably in the courtyard of the palazzo housing Hirst’s Venice show was a plastic copy, the rather ominous lifeguard at the Palms is, in fact, the original, executed in bronze. Other works by the artist have been acquired by the resort as well, and he has also designed a luxury suite at the resort should you care to fully immerse yourself in Hirst’s view of the world. The experience will set you back about $200k a night.
Hirst has always been unashamedly interested in commercial ventures related to his art and notoriety, which at least distinguishes him as being more of a straightforward operator. Most Contemporary artists typically fall into the Bono/DiCaprio/Gore trap when it comes to their supposed values: do as I say, not as I do. Meanwhile, centuries of Western artists from Rubens to Picasso have relished the remunerative aspects of their work, and made no bones about the fact that they wanted to be well-compensated for their luxury goods. The fact that Hirst would actively participate in promoting his art in a city known mostly for its enthusiastic embrace of the fake and the excessive is, perhaps, only fitting.
No word on whether Julia Roberts has been hired as the resort’s official curator.
And now, on to some of the past week’s more interesting art news stories.
Yet another stunning Orientalist piece is coming to market shortly, this time at Bonham’s New York branch. On April 30th, the auction house will be selling “The Palace Guard (Awaiting an Audience)” by the Austrian painter Rudolf Ernst (1854-1932), which is a typical fusion of disparate influences from the Middle East and North Africa: Arabic dress, Ottoman weapon, Moroccan tiles, Persian and Mughal silks, etc. It’s also, at about two feet tall, not too big to fit over the sofa. As regular blog subscribers know, I’ve been following the revival in collector interest in Orientalism for awhile now, and although I’m still not sure what, precisely, has triggered this acquisition trend, it’s certainly not because these works are badly painted: quite the reverse, in fact. The estimate on this one is between $200-$300k, so this sale should give some indication of where the market is headed.
Recently, an interesting art mystery has been unfolding at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. The painting of a woman which has been held in storage at the college’s art museum for the past twenty years could be an unfinished portrait by Norway’s most famous artist, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), of his one-time paramour, violinist Eva Mudocci. Recent scientific tests have turned up no anomalies in the materials that would exclude it from having been painted during the time period when the two were involved, and documentary research has shown that, in addition to the known etchings which Munch definitely produced during their romance, he may have been working on a painted portrait of Mudocci as well before their relationship ended. Further research will be needed, so stay tuned.
While the art experts sort themselves out, Munch fans can content themselves with a new exhibition on the artist’s graphic art, which opens today at the British Museum in London. “Edvard Munch: Love and Angst” features over 80 works, many on loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo, whose massive collection is currently not on view as the foundation prepares to move into its new home next door to the city opera house. Familiar images such as “The Scream” and “Madonna” are joined by lesser-known expressions of angst, such as “The Lonely Ones” shown below, where the relationship between the couple is ambiguous, or perhaps not entirely fulfilling to either party. The exhibition runs through July 21st.