You can look her in the eye. It wasn’t always possible. For 60-plus years, the Blue Angel—the grande dame of a now-defunct motel, a shill for air conditioning and color TV—stood atop a three-story pole overlooking Fremont Street and Eastern Avenue. You couldn’t make eye contact with her even if you rose to her level aboard a cherry-picker; the Angel, her inner mechanics long deactivated, spun with the breeze.
Perhaps that’s why many in Las Vegas’ arts community began to consider the Blue Angel the city’s patron saint. Her perch, and the Mojave winds, gave the Angel a panoramic view of the entire city. It was easy to imagine that she might be looking after you at any given moment. Logically, we know that the Angel—just one element of a sign created by Betty Willis, she of the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign—is nothing but fiberglass and metal, circa 1957. But Las Vegas, with precious little surviving history to draw on, needed the Angel to be more. Painters, photographers and sculptors began to re-create the Angel, to imbue her with life and meaning, even though they could only study her from a distance.
That’s partially what makes Blue Angel: Between Heaven and Earth, currently showing in the Neon Museum’s Ne10 Studio on West Bonanza Road, such an event. Once this showing of the Angel is done, she’ll be restored using funds from the City of Las Vegas’ Centennial Commission and re-situated atop a pole on a traffic island at Charleston and Fremont, not far from the original Blue Angel Motel site. This is your first and only chance to get close to the Angel—to take the obligatory selfie with her, yes, but also to connect with an accidental icon.
The Angel’s presentation is reverent, almost accidentally so: “This is the way we got her,” says Joshua Abbey, one of the show’s organizers. (Another sign of angelic providence: The City delivered the Angel with an olive branch caught in her “feet.” “It’s too perfect,” Abbey says.) The 16-foot statue stands at an angle in the center of the Ne10 space, looking downward. Blue and white lights illuminate her from several angles, giving her a supernatural glow. Nearby, a screen shows the works of local artists inspired by the Angel—James Stanford, Montana Black, Jerry Misko, Mikayla Whitmore and more—along with an impressionistic accounting of the Angel’s influences (basically actress Jean Harlow and Disney’s Pinocchio). The video loop’s Steve Reich soundtrack plays throughout the space, lending an ethereal vibe to the proceedings.
But even if there was no lighting, video or music, the Blue Angel would wow you. It’s those eyes. They’ve waited a long time to catch your attention.
THE BLUE ANGEL: BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH Through July 6; Thursday-Saturday, 1-4 p.m; free. Ne10 Studio, 1001 W. Bonanza Road, 702-387-6366.