News of artist Joe Palermo’s death March 15 came as a surprise to those who believed kind men live forever. A longtime proponent of the arts, Palermo was regarded as an inspiration and a leading member of the old-guard Las Vegas art scene, having served as executive director for the Las Vegas Art Museum in an earlier era and opening Gallery P as one of the first tenants in the then-newly renovated Holsum Lofts.
Fiercely dedicated to early 20th-century art, as if time had stopped and lingered in the active days of Miró, Picasso, Chagall and Dalí, Palermo (who said he worked as an assistant to Miró) painted and sculpted, collected and exhibited works in the manner of the modern masters.
When the Las Vegas Art Museum moved forward under the directorship of Libby Lumpkin as a contemporary art institution featuring exemplary works (post WWII to present) that were more academic, forward-thinking and conceptual than decorative, Palermo continued his museum efforts Downtown with the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art in Neonopolis. There, he provided a home for audiences more attached to the LVAM’s former ways, showcasing local and international artists who melded the past and present.
The SNMFA didn’t receive much attention from the progressive art community, including students, artists and gallery owners, and was largely hidden in the poorly designed Neonopolis. But Palermo, who was 77 when he died, had his loyal supporters, including many former volunteers of the early Las Vegas Art Museum, who believed in his vision.
The Pittsburgh-born Palermo was buried at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. He moved to Las Vegas after serving in the Marines, sang doo-wop and performed jazz before moving to Paris, then headed off to serve in Vietnam before living in Spain and finally returning here for good. In memory of the artist, the SNMFA is holding a tribute exhibit featuring Palermo’s recent works, tipping its hat to its former leader, whose legacy, for now, lives on through his museum.
Joseph Palermo tribute: Recent Works Through July 4, Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art, Neonopolis #280, 382-2926.