A large mural commissioned for the Life Is Beautiful music festival on the side of a downtown motel near the El Cortez.
Corporate-sponsored “street art” on the side of a vacant hotel was just one of the many pieces that were commissioned prior to the Life Is Beautiful music, food and art festival in October.
Graffiti is scattered around downtown, augmenting the artificial culture being scattered around downtown.
It was the summer of 1995 when I saw Shepard Fairey’s original Andre the Giant has a posse. There was nothing exceptional about the small black and white sticker on the street lamp, aside from the fact that it was the second time I’d seen it, the first time having been on a wall several weeks prior, more than 300 miles away.
Before long the iconic “Obey” was popping up everywhere, and street art strolled through the history books with unprecedented indifference.
Most people even missed the irony when Fairey’s ballsy combination of fascist chic and Maoist agitprop soared over the head of a divided nation during the 2008 presidential election. And more years, and many costumed panhandlers later, street art still hasn’t captured the imagination of Las Vegas. The average visitor is more excited about “the pawn shop” than the Bellagio Fountain, and local authorities just recently lost their minds over a few protestors with chalk.
Vegas street art hinged on Indecline Films back in 2002, and basically dropped off altogether with Bumfights by 2004. The mayor talked about cutting off thumbs in 2005 and then local galleries, theaters and schools turned into bomb shelters for sensitive types, with last year’s hanging dummies just sort of depressing everybody at the worst possible moment.
Now it’s 2013 and here comes the Life is Beautiful wall mural, the best thing since the parking garage at the Cosmopolitan.
Could things finally be looking up for street art?
When a community can get together and collectively decide what they will force themselves to look at every day, they become a stronger community. And maybe even a happier one.
Most people get tired of seeing the same old logos and advertisements everywhere, or the same old images that look like they’re designed for private touching rather than public perusal. And don’t get me started on the taggers.
A nice wall mural doesn’t necessarily drive down property value, so there’s no reason a decent street artist should have to end up with all his best work hiding in an art gallery somewhere. Street art is about having your cake and eating it too. And I think Tony Hseih understands that. Which is probably why he’s trying to make a culture of organic happiness in such an artificial way. If he succeeds in his vast plan, it could make him the most indifferently successful artist of all time.
But Tony Hsieh also reminds me of Mr. Brainwash. One reason is that Mr. Brainwash, aka Thierry Guetta, named his first art exhibit Life is Beautiful. But that might not be the only reason. Most people have probably never heard of Mr. Brainwash. Some people actually think that he’s an elaborate practical joke by Banksy and Fairey. This is also my conclusion, although I admit that even Dave Hickey and Tim Bavington make me wonder sometimes.
At his 2008 Life is Beautiful premiere in Hollywood, the 300 compellingly adequate artworks of Mr. Brainwash were promptly gobbled up by hungry collectors, simply because they thought Banksy had something to do with them. With Mr. Brainwash, the art world got its own make-believe West Coast Warhol, and Banksy fans got a good laugh. People were either lifted to new heights of cynicism or they were left blissfully unaware that there was even a problem. Either way, the opening was a huge success.
So if Tony Hsieh and his Corporate Crusaders think they can graft an artificial culture onto the backside of a casino town, then maybe they should do what Mr. Brainwash did. Only instead of cramming 300 average quality paintings into a single gallery space, they could cram 300 average quality wall murals into Downtown Las Vegas. I think that would make a lot of people happy.
And get Banksy to visit The Mob Museum. That would make the rest of them happy.
Thank you, Tony. CL