A couple months back, L.A. Times art critic David Pagel, lecturing at UNLV, talked about the early days of the Los Angeles art scene and a “circling of the wagons” to protect the, at that time, sapling local art community from “the savages.”
Sound familiar? For many, this described the Las Vegas art community to a T. But perhaps we’re starting to push past the sapling phase. In 2012, we saw numerous examples of exceptional growth, milestones hit, and breakthroughs in the types of art happening in and coming to Las Vegas.
Performance art landed with meteoric force. Some of us still shake our heads, branded with the indelible image of Jevijoe Vitug filling and downing of a tall glass of urine for his performance piece in the grassroots Vegas edition of the London Biennale in July. Same event: The spontaneous, rhythmic bottle-clanking, scissor-banging and feet-stomping of volunteers in the Eri King’s “Orange Assembly” sweatshop performance exuded a raw, apocalyptic beauty.
The variety of fascinating performance art pieces by local artists in the Biennale raised the bar and opened the door for performance art to flourish in Las Vegas. Not long after, recent Bay Area transplant and performance artist Michael Barrett began stunning viewers with painfully awkward, physically draining endurance art pieces. A brutal six-hour marathon at Trifecta Gallery explored gender subjectivity, involving a miniature golf obstacle course and the artist clambering out of a window in high heels. Renovations complete on his studio space in 18b, its clear Barrett is settled in for a lengthy stay.
Other exhibit highlights from the year included the fuzzy 3D labyrinthine works constructed from pipe cleaners by Philip Denker, displayed at the Winchester Art Gallery. The complex and scrumptiously tactile works riffed on casino rugs and digital screensaver patterns elevating the lowly pipe cleaner to epic tapestry. In the Garden of Earthly Delights at Sin City Gallery, JK Russ’ Bosch-inspired burlesque models transformed passively sexual forms into aggressive desert females, embellished with scorpions, spider mandibles and rattlesnakes. Over in the Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery, Javier Sanchez and Marlene Siu brought residents of the Las Vegas community into their art installations, transforming divisions into structures of cultural unification.
This year we saw the completion and grand opening of a number of long-awaited projects. The renovated Marjorie Barrick museum dropped the “natural history” designation and got a new lease on life and a new art collection, welcoming a host of works from the Las Vegas Art Museum. A gala opening celebrated the partnership of LVAM and UNLV, allowing the once homeless artworks to once again be displayed and enjoyed by Las Vegans. And speaking of long waits, after a 20-plus year process, the Neon Museum — complete with renovated La Concha visitor center — is fully open for business. The experience with the neon relics has never been better.
A tempting new honeycomb of galleries, boutiques and theaters is found in Art Square. Opened just two months ago, its full potential is yet to be realized.
The roots of the Vegas “art sapling” are going down deep, evidenced by enduring monuments — facilities like The Smith Center, dedicated to art and built not to implode later, but to last. We see continued passion and dedication applied to the preservation of Las Vegas cultural history demonstrated in the immaculate restoration of the La Concha shell. We see artists pushing well beyond simple aesthetics in their works, the challenging form of performance art notwithstanding.
The Vegas art scene is growing up. Coming soon: the rambunctious teenager phase …