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September 18, 2014

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CityCenter: ‘Only in Vegas’ works for the art world, too

MGM Mirage putting $40 million into contemporary works for its city within a city on the Strip

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Leila Navidi / FILE PHOTO

Tourist Melony McCarrell of Victoria, Texas, watches a public art demonstration on the Fremont Street canopy of a work by artist Jenny Holzer, “For Las Vegas.” Holzer’s piece for CityCenter features phrases scrolled on a giant LED screen.

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Nancy Rubins will create one of the most visually stunning commissions at CityCenter with a larger-scale version of her famous installation “Big Pleasure Point.” It will be a colorful composition of rowboats, kayaks, canoes, small sailboats, surfboards, jet skis, paddle boats, catamarans and other craft.

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Henry Moore’s “Reclining Connected Forms,” made from Roman travertine marble, depicts a baby wrapped in its mother’s embrace. Moore’s abstract works are inspired by the human body, organic shapes found in nature and primitive art forms. The sculpture will be in CityCenter’s gaming resort.

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Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, will feature “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X,” an iconic piece by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The 19-foot stainless steel and Fiberglas work is the largest of three such collaborations on the subject.

The $40 million that CityCenter is spending on art not only creates a permanent collection on a scale unseen in Las Vegas, it also perpetuates the oft-used phrase, “only in Vegas.”

It’s true there aren’t many places in the world that would build an $8 billion “city within a city” and instantly install huge sculptures — a 133-foot silver river by Maya Lin, an almost 250-foot installation by Jenny Holzer, who first appeared on the Strip in 1986, and a 5-ton eraser by Claes Oldenburg.

Add this to the collection of big-name architects designing the buildings, and it’s no wonder CityCenter representatives sound a bit breathless.

“We’re one of the last places in the country where this can happen,” says Michele Quinn, who manages CityCenter’s art program. “There would be no way to conceive of a project of this size and scale in New York because where would you put it? Or L.A.”

Works from about 15 artists were selected by Quinn and CityCenter’s fine art committee, made up of MGM Mirage bigwigs Bobby Baldwin, Jim Murren, Gary Jacobs and Sven Van Assche.

Their picks include:

• Lin’s silver cast of the Colorado River in the reception area of the gaming resort;

• Holzer’s phrases scrolling on a giant LED screen at the Harmon Hotel;

• Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s 19-foot stainless steel and Fiberglas “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X” at Mandarin Oriental;

• Frank Stella’s 1969 “Damascus Gate Variation I” above the reception desk at the Vdara Condo Hotel;

• Richard Long’s 80-foot-tall, 50-foot-wide mud drawings at the Veer Towers;

• Henry Moore’s “Reclining Connected Forms” in the gaming resort.

Topping it all off is Nancy Rubins’ bouquet of colorful boats. At 50 feet tall and 80 feet long, it’s a larger-scale version of Rubins’ “Big Pleasure Point.”

The collection puts some of the most notable contemporary artists together with the most notable architects, including Cesar Pelli, Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Vinoly, Helmut Jahn, William Pedersen and Norman Foster, who are designing the individual buildings in the 76-acre city.

Lin has worked closely with Pelli’s team to make sure her piece fits within the context of the glass-walled gaming resort.

Aside from Lin’s and Rubins’, however, the works aren’t as cutting edge as the architecture, which leans, swoops and breaks off at odd angles.

The artists in the collection were picked, in part, to appeal to all ages, Quinn says, which explains Oldenburg, Moore and Stella, crowd pleasers as far back as the ’60s.

“From there,” she says, “it was really about the definition of space and how the definition of the space dictated the commissions and sculptural projects.”

CityCenter’s art collection, of course, adds a giant notch to the “sophistication” of Las Vegas.

“In Las Vegas, tourism is our specialty and we have utterly neglected cultural tourism,” says Libby Lumpkin, executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum. “But being a cultural destination requires more than one entity. That’s why we want to encourage others to come here. Bellagio is still open. Guggenheim is still open. Every little bit helps.”

Lumpkin also is looking forward to the collection at the new Fontainebleau Hotel farther north on the Strip as well as the relocation of the Las Vegas Art Museum.

The millions that CityCenter is spending on art go beyond tourist attraction. The investment is part of its branding of the project as an “urban core.”

“We want to have these spaces reflective of a great city. One of the characteristics of great cities is that great cities have art,” says Alan Feldman, a spokesman for MGM Mirage. “A lot of CityCenter has to do with articulating our view of where Las Vegas is and where it’s going. Including art is a critical component of that.”

And CityCenter is unabashedly selling itself as “one of the great urban places of the world.”

“We’re very much trying to reflect a Las Vegas that we see in the new century, which is a sophisticated and significant urban city,” Feldman says.

Of course we already have a famous international art critic here. What does he think of the artists CityCenter is bringing in?

“It’s the kind of stuff a city needs to have,” Dave Hickey said Friday by telephone from Laguna Beach, Calif., where he is overseeing the installation of “Las Vegas Diaspora.”

“The rest of the stuff is OK. It’s better to have a Henry Moore than to not have a Henry Moore. A ’69 Stella is a worthy acquisition.”

Mostly, he says, “I will look forward to seeing the Nancy Rubins.”

This story has been corrected. MGM Mirage has released corrected dimensions of three of the sculptures in its $40 million public art program at CityCenter that were reported in Monday’s paper. The Maya Lin sculpture will be 133 feet long, rather than 120 feet. The Jenny Holzer piece will be more than 250 feet long, rather than 387 feet. The Nancy Rubins piece will be 50 feet tall and 80 feet long, rather than 40 feet tall, 50 feet wide and 70 feet long. The dimensions in Monday’s Sun story reflected numbers originally released by MGM Mirage.

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