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L.A. Times critic David Pagel on his Dante-inspired exhibit at VAST

Is it your intention to draw an analogy between Dante’s Inferno and Las Vegas?

I have no intention whatsoever to draw any sort of analogies between Las Vegas and Dante’s Inferno. My idea is that today — unlike 700 years ago, when Dante did his thing — hell is everywhere, all over the globe, in our heads and in our attitudes. And not some pit near the center of the Earth.

And by the way, just because a show takes place in a certain location does not mean it is about that location. That may be a definition of provincialism, something I am not interested in perpetuating.

Normally I’m not interested in provincialism, either. The concept of this exhibit placed within the context of Las Vegas, and the number of visual connections between the works and Las Vegas, raised a number of interesting ideas, and I wondered if you had noticed and pondered those connections and ideas as well?

The show kind of began with the work Nicolas Shake was doing. He was finding, in the desert around his home near Lancaster and Palmdale, vast piles of discarded items from peoples’ homes and apartments. When the housing bubble popped, people were getting evicted or just abandoned their underwater mortgages and dumped all their stuff in the desert. Nic photographed that stuff, over time arranging it into temporary sculptures. And photographing those. And adding lights. Then he made paintings from the abandoned stuff, as a mutant kind of still life. Then he made sculptures, some of which incorporated his photos. So the desert is one source of my show. And since Vegas is in a desert, my show fits there. Though I think it’s less about the Strip per se than about civilization’s place in an inhospitable environment and the struggle of surviving in the face of uncaring nature, and uncaring society. So that’s more of what I was thinking about.

Besides being beautiful, battered and worn, as though from a rough journey, what other connections do you find between the works in the exhibit and the nine circles of Dante’s hell?”

What I love about Dante’s trip through hell is that it triggers all sorts of insights for him, the visitor. That it allows him to see his life more clearly. That’s something I hope/dream my show does: trigger insights, even epiphanies, for visitors. Letting them see reality more vividly, clearly.

Is bringing in a group of artists, all practicing in other locations, part of a goal to make Nevada an art destination? Perhaps Nevada should return the favor and bring a group of artists to Los Angeles for an exhibit?

My goal is more selfish and shortsighted and humble than that. I simply wanted to see these works together, to try out some ideas burbling in my head and to see how it all shakes out. But I love your idea of shows from other places coming to L.A. To me, the more exchange and cross-pollination, the better.

The journey through hell seems to have beneficial character-building qualities, for artists in particular. Perhaps Las Vegas artists are in the middle of their journey?

Adversity can forge better work. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the Las Vegas art community to comment intelligently on it. I do know a good number of fantastic artists working in Las Vegas, including Tim Bavington, Sush Machida Gaikotsu, David Ryan, Angela Kallus, Shaun Hummel and Scott Grow. Over the years I’ve organized several shows in Las Vegas … to me, they’re all pretty unique, although all begin with the uncontrollable and unpredictable nature of pleasure and its relationship to knowledge and meaning.

THE 10TH CIRCLE March 2-April 15; Vast Space Projects, 730 W. Sunset Road, Henderson, (323) 240-2888. Opening: March 2, 6-8p, with artists and Pagel participating on a panel at 5 p.m.