“Have we got it hot enough? The heaters are on and everything,” joked artist Matthew Couper. Summer settled on Las Vegas during First Friday, just in time for the opening of the new exhibit Disco Inferno, curated by Couper, making the hellish heat implied by the title a reality.
Pulling in work by 14 international artists, the exhibit offers a “parallel pavilion,” according to Couper, to the 55th International Venice Biennial that opened three weeks ago in Italy. But it also offers commentary on and an inversion of the Biennale’s newest addition: an art display commissioned by Vatican City.
“If the Vatican can do something about heaven, then Las Vegas can do something about hell,” Couper said. “Disco Inferno is about the idea of coming to Vegas to play in hell.”
Works in the exhibit playfully romp through hell, its blasphemous indulgences including an upside-down crucifix in the work of Italian artist Fernanda Celant’s “Povera Ma Sexy,” and gay lovers masturbating on a pink-zebra sofa by Japanese artist Seji Takahashi.
Outside, visitors were invited to eat slices carved from a roasted pig on display, part of the edible art piece by Taiwan’s Red Flag Coalition. Like a bad joke, a panel above the carcass read, “No animal was harmed in the making of this art.” It’s probable no animals were involved in painting the panel, but placing it with the pork buffet forces an amusing contradiction and perhaps the vision of a hell kitchen.
Playing on the wall above the roast pig, the proverbial dance in the lake of fire took place in the form of a devil-boogie video compilation by Italian artist Marco Riccardo. The inspiration for the devils came from Internet GIFs, heavy metal bands, the devil ‘bot from Futurama, a cloven-hoofed Ned applying a plunger to the head of Homer Simpson — all rocking out to an electronic dance music remix of the hit song “Disco Inferno.”
Part of the strategy of organizing Disco Inferno with such a diverse roster of international artists on short notice — planning began in March — involved the shipping of ideas rather than completed objects. While some of the works were in fact sent completed, others arrived with only a couple of items, and in some instances, the only delivery were written instructions including what items to gather and directions on how to assemble them.
The concept that the essence of a work of art is its idea was largely instigated by Sol LeWitt, whose complicated wall drawings were executed by others following strict instructions written by the artist. It’s especially advantageous, given the distance a completed work would have to travel.
“It shows a way of going about making work cheap, or just sending a few instructions,” said Couper. “It’s sending an idea, like, ‘That person is a car crash, they can’t dance,’ then going and finding a broken-out windshield and gluing all the pieces to a ball” — as was done for a piece in the show titled “Car Crash Disco Ball,” by Qatar artist Al Habid.
The end result is a juicy influx of ideas being explored by artists from all over the world, interrupting our normally local-centric focus with an opportunity for creative types here to see what’s happening out there — and cross-cultural idea-sharing is traditionally one of the goals of an art biennale. Lacking the comfort of air-conditioning, the small Vegas pavilion is boiling over with art ideas, both literally and figuratively.