MGM isn’t in the frequent practice of making statements about society on its properties. And while it has flirted with public art before—to the tune of $40 million, at CityCenter—never has it looked to Burning Man for inspiration. That has changed with the installation of Bliss Dance, a nearly four-ton, 40-foot high sculpture in the center of Park, MGM’s promenade bridging New York-New York and Monte Carlo, leading to the forthcoming T-Mobile Arena.
Bliss Dance comes to Las Vegas from Treasure Island, San Francisco, where it was installed in 2011, but artist Marco Cochrane first unveiled his creation at the 2010 edition of Burning Man, where she stood as a beautiful, fluid counterpart to the rigid, geometric "Man" that is torched at the weeklong event's climax. It took a year to conceptualize and make, with another six months going into its pre-Vegas refurbishment (which include the addition of 3,000 LED lights). Modeled after Bay Area singer Deja Solis, it represents a liberated and unthreatened woman, at her most empowered and uninhibited state.
“My intent from the beginning of this was trying to solve sexual assault,” says Cochrane, during a recent visit to Las Vegas. “How can you do that? Well, part of that is to attract people with the very thing that’s basically the problem—[women] are attractive. And then make it more about her humanity with her pose, which works, even though she’s nude. She’s not doing it for anyone else. This is her own feeling. This is for herself.
“When we called Deja [Solis, the model], she said, ‘I think it’s a great idea.’” adds Julia Whitelaw, Cochrane’s wife. “Let’s bring this idea right in the center of Las Vegas. And really, to MGM’s credit, from the beginning, they said, 'say what you want to say.' They’re not trying to change her into a Vegas showgirl. It’s not their intent, either.”
For such a corporate entity like MGM, Bliss Dance is a thought-provoking, socially conscious and arguably political presentation, and the casino group backs up Whitelaw’s assertion. “It’s certainly iconic and has a tremendous amount of meaning behind the art,” says Joyen Vakil, MGM Resorts’ Senior Vice President of Design and Development. “To us, it was really important for us to make the statement.”
And in Las Vegas, there’s unlimited potential for that statement to resonate broadly, given its 41 million annual visitors. Which made its placement at Park a no-brainer, despite the Strip being an unlikely place for outside art that doesn’t sell or theme an attraction.
“During Burning Man, she’s basically preaching to the choir,” Cochrane says, who has since built two similarly de-objectifying sister sculptures (named Truth is Beauty and R-Evolution). “When we talked about bringing her [to Vegas], we thought, 'wow, OK, well, I think the world is recognizing this.' There’s a movement all over the world that women are humans. They’re people, and they should be treated as such. I’m really amazed and thrilled that MGM is taking this message and placing it here in Vegas. I think it may be one of the most powerful places on the planet to put it. People come here from all over the world.”
The overall Park project, to be flanked by restaurants, bars, the arena and the forthcoming theater at Monte Carlo, will also incorporate several varieties of desert plants, seating alcoves, spaces for live performances, water walls at its entrance and four steel, LED-covered shade structures, the latter an element of design and functionality. “They were inspired by and are an interpretation of the tulips,” Vakil says. “They really tied to the floral concept of Park.”
Bliss Dance, however, is Park’s lone art installation, and the importance of its location can’t be overstated. She’s not the promotional emblem of a nightclub, like a 40-foot-tall go-go girl. She’s the central artistic figure in a plaza to which two major casino-hotels overlook, where up to 20,000 people will pass every night the adjacent T-Mobile Arena hosts an event. Cochrane and MGM say they hope she’ll make her many passersby stop and think about what she represents. And for those who don’t initially catch the meaning behind her lithe, carefree energy, a hopeful assertion will sit below her on a plaque, reading, “What would the world be like if women were safe.”
“The message is here,” Cochrane says. “And I hope the conversation gets started.”
Bliss Dance will officially debut to the public during a ceremony when Park opens April 4.