Fine Art

What it means when talented artists leave town

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Zak Ostrowskis mural in the center of the amphitheater at the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway on June 2, 2015.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

Reacting to the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico last September, Las Vegas artist Javier Sanchez created a multimedia installation confronting the ongoing brutality of the Mexican drug wars. The haunting experience in the Barrick Museum reverberated much more intensely than ephemeral headlines on social media and transcended the usual impersonal data tied to tragedy.

It was among many sophisticated and penetrating works produced by artists here that mirror our lives and the world around us, offering myriad perspectives while critiquing, challenging or celebrating norms—a counter to Las Vegas’ uncultured stereotype.

Javier Sanchez's piece at the Basin and Range exhibit on display at Donna Beam Gallery in Las Vegas, Nev. on June 18, 2015.

Artists come and go, as so many people do here. But the consecutive departures of Sanchez and four other prominent local artists, following the closures of two noteworthy galleries whose owners have also moved away, has some discussing the bruising of the scene.

We’ve lamented the cyclical departures, closures and “guttings” so many times already, only to learn that art here is a force, that even if there were no galleries showing contemporary works by career artists, discourse and engagement would happen through visual art somewhere in this sprawling Valley. It will always be better and worse, and constantly evolving. The Barrick Museum’s current Recent Acquisitions exhibit is a testament to that, and the show is only a sliver of what is here and has been here.

A piece of Erin Stellmon's "The Ogden," part of the Reinventing the West exhibit

Despite not having a major art institution and dealing with the ripple effects of a university arts program constantly in turmoil, the visual arts in Las Vegas and the artists who come and go have, in many cases, blown us away. Now, after the departure of gallerists Marty Walsh and Dana Satterwhite and artist Zak Ostrowski, we say goodbye to artists Erin Stellmon, David Sanchez Burr and Danielle Kelly. Kelly also was the executive director of the Neon Museum for seven years.

Sanchez Burr’s many exhibits exploring decay and destruction considered urban transformations as well as those in the more remote desert landscape.

David Sanchez Burr’s New Citadel.

Stellmon, who worked at the Neon Museum and served as the Contemporary Arts Center’s vice president, addressed changing Las Vegas through color, form and pattern in mixed-media works.

At the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, Ostrowski’s sculptural benches are reflective of the landscape, as does his handmade circular tile mural referencing the rings of a tree on the ground of the outdoor amphitheater.

With gallery shows, public works, installations and exhibits in municipal spaces and behind-the-scenes efforts, they’ve left a lasting imprint. As will the many Las Vegas artists who are, at this moment, keeping the conversation going.

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