Las Vegas Sun

August 30, 2014

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LV art gets ready for the big time

We've got Frank Gehry designing the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and a performing arts center in the works. The Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum showcases masterpieces, and PaceWildenstein , a big name in 20th-century art, is running the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts. Our own art museum is gaining acquisitions and moving toward accreditation as a contemporary institution.

But is the city really ready to host an international contemporary art fair?

Apparently it thinks it is.

Las Vegas sent a representative from its office of business development to Art Basel Miami Beach, where the main show and satellite fairs had roughly 500 galleries from around the world buying, selling, networking and schmoozing with collectors, museum reps and other galleries. The offshoot of Art Basel Switzerland, the Miami Beach event is five years old and has become the United States' largest contemporary art fair.

Art Basel does not release sales figures, but magazines and newspapers estimate as much as $400 million was spent on art by the 40,000 international visitors who attended the main fair this month.

Concurrent satellite fairs have spread like wildfire. Dust Gallery made its way into the satellite show Scope Miami, the first time a Las Vegas gallery has been accepted for one.

If Miami Beach can do it, so can Las Vegas, locals say.

In a city of big dreams, this might be its biggest.

It's not so outrageous that it hasn't been talked about. Our acres of convention space, top restaurants, hotel rooms and international draw have West Coast artists, collectors and gallerists surmising that we're a prime location.

"Las Vegas is absolutely made for an art fair," says Libby Lumpkin, executive director for the Las Vegas Art Museum, who wasn't aware that the city had sent someone to Miami. "It's inevitable that one will come here. We know how to cater to the high-end clientele who frequent the art fairs."

Lumpkin was at Art Basel Miami Beach last year, along with Roger Thomas and Elaine Wynn, and says those Art Basel attendees also frequent high-end Las Vegas hotels:

"I have gallerists calling all the time suggesting an art fair here. We've got the energy. And it doesn't have to be that fair. There are a lot of other options for other fairs."

Good, because a spokesman for Art Basel says not to get too excited about an Art Basel Las Vegas: "Art Basel has been approached by several cities to discuss opening up art fairs there. We're not at liberty to say which cities. Unfortunately we are not interested in expanding beyond the fair in Basel Switzerland and our sister fair in Miami Beach."

Still, Las Vegas sent Richann Johnson, a senior economic development officer from the office of Business Development, to check out Art Basel Miami Beach. The city's not ready to discuss its plans.

But, Johnson says, "The city is interested in exploring opportunities like this."

She was among Las Vegas artists, curators, collectors and dealers who headed to Miami for the Dec. 6-9 festival.

Here's what they experienced:

Naomi Arin

Dealer, collector, co-owner of Dust Gallery, which represents local and national artists

Why she went: To network, market, buy, sell, get exposure, build relationships with other galleries.

"You're in front of everyone, every major collector in the world, buyers, dealers. It's like spring break for art geeks."

Arin has attended the Scope fair in Los Angeles and in New York. "If you're not in Miami," she says, "you're not visible in the art world."

To get accepted at the satellite Scope fair, Arin wrote an essay on the Las Vegas aesthetic, met with Scope organizers in New York City, had New York gallery owners call Scope on her behalf, and then was put on a waiting list.

"We shipped a really humongous crate of artwork - Shawn Hummel. Lisa Stefanelli. Stephen Hough. Mark Brandvik, Bradley Corman. Angela Kallus. Curtis Fairman and Mariette Hoferer."

Vegas factor: "It used to be when we went (as attendees), people were saying, 'I didn't know there were galleries in Las Vegas.' Now it's one or two people who say that as opposed to every single person walking by."

Reaction: Sold some work and received commissions for artists she represents. "Things keep coming out of it every day. Because of Art Basel Miami, Stephen Hough is having a solo show in Mexico City."

Could it happen here? "Anything's possible. We could certainly provide the services Miami provides, convention space or do it downtown. We have restaurants, nice hotels.

"What we need is a really high-end name to have it here. Miami went to Switzerland to have Art Basel in Miami. We would need a name big enough to attract the collectors."

Anne Kellogg

Board member of the Las Vegas Arts District Neighborhood Association; owns a stationary boutique in Holsum Lofts and is a member of the Guggenheim Young Collectors Council

Why she went: "I wanted to see what it was all about. I heard that Las Vegas is thinking about doing something here. It helps me to see trends in the art world and what's coming down the pike."

Reaction: "It was nice to be around all that creative energy. There are so many talented people on the planet it just blows your mind."

Vegas factor: "Everyone wants to know more about Las Vegas. Las Vegas is starting to find its own voice in the world. People want to know more about our city, so it makes sense that people would want to know more about our artists. "

Could it happen here? "We're Las Vegas. We can do whatever we want. We could do something here, but not something like that. The thing about Miami is that it's a lot sleepier, there weren't 10 different Cirque shows. The neighborhood experience was a big part of Art Basel."

Dana Lee

Modest collector, full-time mom who majored in art history, board member of the Las Vegas Art Museum, and member of Guggenheim Young Collectors Council

Why she went: To check the pulse of what's happening. This was her third year attending. She considers herself an art lover and art watcher. She bought the first year. These last two years she has been establishing relationships with galleries and dealers.

"There are galleries from all over the world. What opportunity would I have to see what these galleries are showing? And it's pretty rare to actually go and meet and talk to the dealers."

Reaction: "It's so stimulating. There's no curatorial nature behind it, but it's exciting because all these works are for sale ... You want to get there when the doors open because art really moves."

But Lee says it has become so crowded that she doesn't know if she'll be going back.

Vegas factor: Lee notices more Las Vegas residents attending Art Basel Miami Beach, but the awareness in Las Vegas of Art Basel Miami Beach is still small.

"For the most part, people don't know what it is and how broad it is."

Could it happen here? "I think it makes sense because Miami, like Las Vegas, is an international city with the spotlight on it. I think our infrastructure would have to improve a bit. Part of what makes Miami Basel special is that collectors open their homes. The entire city comes together to present this.

"It would be a galvanizing thing for Las Vegas."

Tim Bavington

Las Vegas artist who sells and exhibits internationally and has a painting in the permanent collection of Museum of Modern Art, New York

Why he went: He didn't have an agenda; he went mainly to catch up with old friends, dealers and make new connections. "They (art fairs) have become a necessary evil. Every time I go out there I meet everybody that I do business with and ultimately I meet collectors who want to do business with me. I bump into my Paris dealer, my London dealer. They're all walking around. Everybody goes. That's why there are so many satellite shows."

Reaction: "The art fairs have been extremely important for the art market. But for an artist, this is less than ideal. I have a commercial art background so I have the intestinal fortitude to withstand it. You could be the most detached artist there is, but the work is intensely personal.

"I don't like to go (to) see the artwork. As nice as the fairs are, it's far less ideal than presentations in a gallery. To have a fine, white sparkling gallery reduced to small markets - especially when ordinarily galleries go to a lot of trouble in their buildouts to present works of art in a respectable manner - is less than ideal."

Vegas factor: "People have known about artists coming out of here for a good 10 years. If you're in the art world, you've known about it with the buzz around Dave (Hickey) teaching at UNLV." (Hickey was teaching art students in the masters of fine arts program, but is now in the English department.)

Could it happen here? "It's a very healthy market right now. But it seems like the fairs on the West Coast haven't done so well. I guess European art collectors aren't going to travel the next 3,000 miles."

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