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High art with high stakes: Jevijoe Vitug's 'Casino Capital'

A recreation of Damien Hirst's "spot" works, by Jevijoe Vitug (PHOTO: JENESSA KENWAY)
A recreation of Damien Hirst's "spot" works, by Jevijoe Vitug (PHOTO: JENESSA KENWAY)

Two Damien Hirst spot panels lay on the floor raised up a few inches by Campbell’s soup cans. Visitors to the Momas and Dadas Project Space toss crumpled dollar bills at them, trying to land a projectile squarely on a dot for a chance to win the art — a game similar to the penny-toss found at carnivals.

Suddenly, a cheer goes up. Amazingly, a player managed to land a tightly wadded-up bill on a blue dot. Her prize, eight cans of Campbell’s soup, is piled into her arms with a handshake and a smiling photo-op. 

Such cavalier treatment of blue-chip art might shock or amuse, depending on the person. But the spot panels in Momas and Dadas' Casino Capital exhibit — Jevijoe Vitug's replication of a couple spot works by Hirst — are actually convincing cover art. In another corner, there's a separate installation of Campbell’s soup cans covering Andy Warhol and a vacuum cleaner sculpture emulating “Hover Convertibles” by Jeff Koons.  Appropriating imagery by these art icons allows Vitug to interact with the language of this particular set of artists, reclaiming the conceptual content. And like a celebrity parody on Saturday Night Live, the exhibit playfully pokes and examines the iconic works, gambling them into fresh context.

“I'm more interested in the etymology of words and art,” Vitug says. “For instance, the word ‘curate’ meaning ‘to cure.’ I’m ‘curing’ [Warhol, Hirst and Koons] again as "idea based" or conceptual works that must respond to the immediate environment  in this case, Las Vegas. So I think ‘curing them’ into a ‘casino environment’ makes sense.”

Warhol, Koons and Hirst have achieved artistic stardom, but that has dehumanized them. Their names don’t bring to mind a human being; rather, they provoke images of their creations — they are their work. Also, each artist is known to create their work in a factory environment, directing a multitude of assistants in the creation of their work. As they are physically removed from the process, the evidence of the hand is removed from the work as well. 

Furthermore, the essence of the copied work resides in the original thought that sparked the imagery, but that meaning is largely lost in an art market fixated upon dollar signs. “These artists' works are perceived to be valuable and expensive because of the art market,” Vitug explains. “They have become detached from their original intention or meaning. They are originally "idea-based" or conceptual works that have an immediate response to their everyday environment, but now they are merely objects with monetary value.”

The work of these artists is currently on display at various locations around the Vegas valley: Warhol showing in the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art; "Tulips" by Jeff Koons is exhibited at the Wynn; and Damien Hirst spot prints are on display at Michele Quinn Fine Art Advisory. Digested and pre-approved, the viewing experience is a didactic page out of art history. Vitug’s exhibit returns the iconic visuals to the proving grounds, battling for renewed relevancy once again.

Casino Capital: through March, Momas and Dadas: New Genres Project House, 926B S. Casino Center Blvd., http://momasanddadas.wordpress.com