Vegas in decay: Examining the broken ‘Ghost Gem’ sculptures at the airport

Shattered blue glass can be seen nearby one of the “Ghost Gem” sculptures Jan. 24 at McCarran Airport.

Back in October, while taking a friend to the airport, I noticed on the drive to McCarran’s departure gates that one of John Torreano's “Ghost Gem” sculptures had shattered and bled its blue shards onto the manicured landscape, creating a pool of broken glass.

It was a little surprising. It was already late afternoon and nothing had been done. There had been no dangerous wind gusts that day and, had miscreants assaulted the sculpture in the night, airport staff surely would have swept it up first thing. Thousands pass daily on their way out of Las Vegas and see these gems made from metal tubing and glass and installed in 1992 as part of a larger public art effort.

Another week went by and the broken gem remained as broken as it was the week before. The next month, the same. And the next.

I called the airport to find out what plans were being made for the repair or removal of the sculpture. The artist is nobody to sneeze at. Torreano's cosmos-inspired renderings and sculptures have garnered attention over the decades, placing him in exhibits at the Whitney and MOMA, among others. A spokeswoman said staff will work toward getting the broken glass cleaned up and will then research and evaluate what the options are for going forward.

About a week ago, I noticed that the remaining jagged glass left on the tubing that formed the structure of the gem seemed less fresh, as if it finished some of its falling, or maybe someone had cleaned it, because the pile of blue on the ground seemed less obvious. When I finally contacted the artist, he said his contract for “Ghost Gems” placed maintenance in the hands of the airport.

More importantly, he said this: “The original thinking behind the random distribution of glass for the facets was to create a sense of ambiguity between construction and deconstruction. In other words, are they in the process of becoming or in the process of decay? That is a feeling I have about Las Vegas, which to me, is part of what makes Las Vegas so interesting as a city. It is in an overt process of tearing down and rebuilding, almost like a living organism. The skin molds and is then refreshed. It seems if these gems are allowed to have the glass broken, then, by extension, it’s saying that Las Vegas is in decay.”

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Kristen Peterson

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