Fine Art

Does Las Vegas really need to bring its visual charms down to selfie-stick level?

The Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier Bar and Jessie Smigel’s “Snowball in Vegas”
Illustration: Steve Marcus and Yasmina Chavez / Staff

Las Vegas began preparing for the “Instagram museum” craze years before such things even existed. Like the bi-coastal Museum of Ice Cream, certain “exhibits” serve primarily as backdrops for photos, and virtually our entire Valley works as a photo backdrop, providing frames packed with visual noise, or—just a few miles out of town—the complete absence of it. That’s been the way of things here since the Cenozoic era.

That’s why it’s weird to see Vegas beginning to chase the trend. Ugo Rondione’s “Seven Magic Mountains,” which was supposed to be taken down in May 2018, has been extended indefinitely due to its popularity with Instagrammers. The newly-opened Cannabition Cannabis Museum describes itself as an “Instagrammable” space. The City of Las Vegas’ new entryway sign—designed to emulate the Betty Willis-designed “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, an Instagram favorite tagged nearly 77,000 times—is custom-made for selfies, with its giant dice and gaming-chip props. (Personally speaking, I think the new sign is cheap-looking and inappropriate for a city that’s trying to look forward, but tourists seem to be interacting with it, and I guess that’s the important thing.)

Other properties are beginning to encourage Instagrammers, in ways large (art installations like the Palazzo’s “LOVE” sculpture) and small (official hashtags). And the funny thing is, they don’t have to; again, Vegas already has some of the world’s best Instagram backdrops, some of which I’ll name below. Adding more is like putting the proverbial hat on a hat.

The Chandelier Bar at the Cosmopolitan comes to mind. Its glittering curtains of Swarovski crystal make for great photo backdrops, and you can get some great depth-of-field shots by shooting through them—blurry figures, emerging from a wall of swag. Nearby, Aria boasts nearly two dozen fine art pieces that make terrific backdrops (you can download a brochure of them at, including Jenny Holzer’s scrolling-text piece, “Vegas”; Nancy Rubin’s giant boat-blossom “Big Edge”; and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X.” (Another piece from Oldenburg/Van Bruggen’s series of giant objects, “Flashlight,” is on the UNLV campus, adjacent to the Artemus Ham and Judy Bayley spaces.)

And the Arts District has just as much to offer. Jesse Carson Smigel’s playful cat sculpture on First and Coolidge, “Snowball in Vegas,” is such a beloved photo op, it has earned a five-star Yelp page. The façade of the Arts Factory has recently been remade as one giant, rainbow-hued photo backdrop emblazoned with the phrase “Love Las Vegas Arts.” And even a cursory wander of the district’s alleys reveals hundreds of pieces of street art that have stood behind both wedding and band photos. No matter where you turn, Vegas is Instagram. So why try harder?

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