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April 21, 2014

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One art museum extends welcome as another closes

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Leila Navidi

Embracing museumgoers: Joe Palermo, director of the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art, is shown inside the museum Jan. 30.

The Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art is opening its doors to members of the recently closed Las Vegas Art Museum.

“We welcome anyone who supported the Las Vegas Art Museum to come and see what we have here,” said Joe Palermo, the museum’s director.

The museum will honor all memberships from the Las Vegas Art Museum.

Palermo said he is not trying to replace the Las Vegas Art Museum, which operated for 59 years. He said it is a tragedy that the museum he was once the executive director of has closed and hopes it can be revived at some point.

“The sad part is what the city has lost,” Palermo said. “It’s really a shame that after so long it’s just gone.”

The Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art is located inside Neonopolis at the corner of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard.

The museum, which is privately funded, opened in 2003 and was most recently located in Henderson, seems to have found a home at Neonopolis.

In addition to a permanent collection of paintings from the Barbizon school of artists, the museum hosts exhibitions. The “Revealing Women Redux” show, which features the paintings of Susanne Forestieri and sculptures by Roberta Baskin Shefrin, concludes its run at the museum this week.

In May a juried exhibition that will include art from three states — Nevada, Arizona and Utah — will be followed by an Asian Art Retrospective.

A showcase museum, Palermo says, seems to be the best fit for Las Vegas.

“You build thee institutions from the inside out,” Palermo said. “You need to draw people in by presenting well-known artists who appeal to a broad range of people.”

During Palermo’s tenure in 1999 and 2000, the Las Vegas Art Museum brought in exhibits from Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall and membership skyrocketed.

Palermo, an accomplished artist and sculptor, left for a short time to focus on his art, but returned for another stint as consulting director in 2003. His collection of works, which spans more than four decades, has many influences, including cubism, futurism, expressionism, surrealism and geometric abstraction.

In 2002, when Palermo was a consultant, the Las Vegas Art Museum was one of only a handful in the country to host the Smithsonian exhibit “George Washington, A National Treasure,” which was viewed by more than 40,000 people in Las Vegas.

Visitors to the Chagall and Dali exhibits numbered almost 17,000 and membership during that time grew from 700 to more than 3,000.

When the museum closed last month membership had dropped to about 1,000.

Palermo said there were a lot of talented and enthusiastic people involved with the Las Vegas Art Museum and he would welcome input from anyone who wants to become involved in this venture.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone,” Palermo said. “A museum is only as strong as its supporters and volunteers.”

Jerry Polis, a local businessman and the primary benefactor of the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art, said Palermo’s participation was a key factor in his decision to get involved.

“Joe is the only guy in town who could run a museum like this and he has the (name) recognition to make it work,” Polis said. “When the opportunity came up to have a small museum with good art that I knew would be run correctly, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.”

Palermo refuses to participate in the war of words surrounding the closing of the Las Vegas Art Museum, despite the fact that some of the recent criticism refers to a time he was executive director.

Patrick Duffy, board president of the museum at the time it closed, was recently quoted as saying the museum would rather close than display the third-rate art it showed 10 years ago.

Palermo said his record and reputation as an artist and a museum director speak for themselves.

Others in the arts community in Las Vegas, however, were not so easy to dismiss the criticism of the museum’s direction under Palermo.

Debbe Sussman is a lifelong art collector and supporter of the arts in Las Vegas. Her “Art Creates” gallery is in the Southern Nevada Center for the Arts, an artist’s colony next to the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art.

She said the Las Vegas Art Museum was headed in the right direction when Palermo was the director.

“There were magnificent shows there when Joe was in charge,” Sussman said. “No one has done anything like that before or since.”

Sussman said the museum seemed to lose support when the focus changed from a showcase museum to a contemporary arts center.

“There was not enough of a following for that type of art here,” she said.

Palermo said that while he is saddened by the closing of the Las Vegas Art Museum, his current focus is to keep the arts alive in Las Vegas through his current project.

His goal is to make the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art a destination for local art lovers as well as the thousands of visitors that come to Las Vegas from all over the world.

Mark Hansel covers retail and marketing for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at 259-4069 or at [email protected]

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