Last spring, Wendy Kveck taught an art class at UNLV called Finding America in Las Vegas. “I considered how the landscape and cultures of Southern Nevada have influenced artists’ work over the decades,” she wrote in a blog post for Nevada Humanities.
Teaching the course, which included field trips to the Neon Museum and Fremont Street, led her to ponder the meaning of a monument: “Is it an object, an artwork, a painting, a sculpture, a landscape, a billboard, a gesture, a poem, a podcast, an arts center, a community?” she wrote.
That spring class was also impacted by the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests and the looming presidential election. As Kveck was considering how advocacy work by artists led to the designation of National Monuments in Nevada, old Confederate monuments to white supremacy were being removed across the South. Kveck says it’s the role of artists to respond to this moment, “to be inspired by the art and activism of other artists.”
So, Kveck brought together 42 artists to participate in an online exhibition for Nevada Humanities titled New Monuments for a Future Las Vegas. Most participants worked in pairs or groups—often teaming with writers—to create works spanning a variety of media. Kveck says she chose a collaborative format “in rejection of the autonomous voice or author—to be more symbolically about building futures together.”
The pieces are wildly different but equally exciting, created by an all-star team of collaborators including Fawn Douglas, Denise Duarte, Ali Fathollahi, Karla Lagunas, Holly Lay, Chase R. McCurdy, JK Russ, Nanda Sharif-pour, D.K. Sole, Erica Vital-Lazare and many more.
Barrick Museum Executive Director Alisha Kerlin teamed up with architecture student/Barrick staffer Emmanuel Muñoz and the (unwtting) U.S. Postal Service for “P.S. I Hope You Are Well.” The two artists engaged in a written correspondence and then mailed their pieces directly to Nevada Humanities. Kerlin says their correspondence was all handwritten and punctuated with drawings and collage. “It’s a great excuse to have a new pen pal,” says Kerlin, who already corresponds with a variety of local creatives. As with many of the other artists, this submission is part of a larger project, which can be found at instagram.com/p.s.lasvegas.
The GULCH Collective— Justin Favela, Jennifer Kleven, Quindo Miller, Krystal Ramirez, Lance L. Smith and Mikayla Whitmore—“self-documented” a unique sacrificial ceremony for “Sundown at Matchpoint: A Monument to Structured Leisure.” “We took a collection of old sporting equipment and presented the objects as offerings at the base of statues [in Green Valley] in order to satirically direct attention to the privilege of having the means to participate in exclusive recreational activities,” Whitmore says.
Absinthe clown Heidi Rider and artist Adriana Chavez paired up for the delightfully cringey faux-infomercial, “So, You Want to Buy a Monument.” Donning wigs and fake red nails, the two hawk weird sculptures that pretend to be Vegas souvenirs: a salvaged El Cortez carpet square; “the commemorative corpse of Cirque du Soleil”; a “certified cornerstone” of the imploded Riviera; and a “genuine baby alien hand.” Rider says she and Chavez were playing around with the “mythologies” of place and satirizing the idea of how often the things that become monuments don’t have intrinsic value.
Artist Brent Holmes and author Claire Vaye Watkins put up a billboard on Desert Inn Road with the words “Make a List of Everything You Have Lost” and a phone number. Watkins writes in the accompanying essay, “We did this because we love you, Las Vegas, and wonder what would happen if this city could be what it pretends to be—open, free, deeply accepting of every imperfect being with a body? Couldn’t that heal us?”