The normalcy of seeing great art on the Las Vegas Strip

Jeff Koons’ sculpture “Tulips” on display at the Wynn in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn purchased it in 2012 for $33.6 million.

Frank Stella's "Damascus Gate Variation 1" behind the registration desk of Vdara.

In the wake of Elaine Wynn’s $142 million purchase of a Francis Bacon triptych—which was immediately sent to a museum in Oregon—her ex-husband, Steve Wynn, plopped his new Jeff Koons “Popeye” inside his namesake hotel, inviting the world to have a look at his newest, shiniest trophy.

The mirror-polished 6-foot-5-inch-tall sculpture features the sailor in his trademark blue pants and a shirt that, in this case, is the color of grape jelly, clenching an opened can of greens responsible for his bulging bicep. Shiny and rich, “Popeye” joins Wynn’s early Koons purchase, “Tulips,” outside the Wynn Theater. Both are spectacular, of course, for those of us not bored with Koons’ famous quest for perfection via kitsch and pop culture.

Lily Chen, a tourist from Taiwan, touches "Reclining Connected Forms," a Henry Moore sculpture at CityCenter Tuesday, December 15, 2009.

And both represent a unique (and peculiar) opportunity for the community—casinos accentuating their brands with multimillion-dollar artwork instead of $2.99 all-you-can-eat steak and lobster deals followed by free magic shows. It probably says nothing great about the nature of Las Vegas, when the only art of this caliber exists in and around casinos (in their attempt to one-up competitors) with nothing going into the coffers of an off-Strip art museum providing community enrichment.

While either Wynn could have created an art museum (which often comes up when Elaine’s Bacon purchase is in the conversation), it’s not as if Steve Wynn didn’t start something when he latched onto art collecting and opened the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, making art a thing on the Strip.

If, somehow, all of these pieces in private collections on display to the public were to wind up under the same roof, we would actually have quite the permanent collection for a museum. We even have a Nancy Rubins to grace the imagined museum’s exterior, à la Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Instead, we have a several-acre expanse on the Strip serving as its own museum of sorts.

Big Edge by Nancy Rubins.

Big Edge by Nancy Rubins.

It might not seem appropriate to have field trip school buses pull up in the porte-cochère on Las Vegas Boulevard to look at art by Koons, Rubins, Frank Stella, Maya Lin or Robert Rauschenberg—or line up on the Strip to see Tracey Emin’s digital neon-inspired works on a marquee—but in Las Vegas, it would be completely normal.

As to whether Elaine Wynn’s Bacon will be shown in Las Vegas now that its stint in Oregon is over (collectors can receive a tax break if shipping it there first), the logical answer is: when she gets a casino.

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Kristen Peterson

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