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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Las Vegas Art

Las Vegas' Bellagio Hotel, Steve Wynn's erstwhile art gallery.
Where would you go to see the work of the top dozen or so artists of the last two or three hundred years? Where might you find the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Rembrandt, Cezanne, Gauguin, De Kooning, Manet, Matisse, Miro, Modigliani, Monet, Degas, Seurat, and Pollock in a single collection? London's National Gallery maybe, or similar institution in Washington, or New York's MoMA, the Louvre in Paris, or perhaps Saint Petersburg, Russia? Well, possibly, though with a list as diverse as this, maybe none of these might have every single artist. How about Las Vegas?  I know, people go to Vegas for a lot of different reasons, the golf, the gambling, the restaurants, the shows, but to view fine art? In a casino? Well, no, and not in a hotel lobby either, for that matter. Actually they were all once tucked away in a modest but elegant gallery in the rear of Steve Wynn's Bellagio Hotel, back by the pool, on the right (now replaced by a Rolex store).

Stephen A. Wynn, Las Vegas art mogul.
Since 2006, the collection has been "farmed out" to Wynn's many other Las Vegas properties. But, for a number of years, the Bellagio had it all. It wasn't a big gallery. The Louvre had nothing to worry about. And, there was not much depth to the collection; but what it lacked in scale it more than made up for in breadth and chic showmanship. All were originals--oil paintings except for the works of Manet and Degas which were pastels. It was the private collection, now open to the public, of Stephen A. Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts Limited, which owns the Bellagio complex as well as the old Golden Nugget, the Wynn, the Mirage, Treasure Island, and the Encore hotels. As Las Vegas attractions go, Wynn's art collection is pretty tame. As art goes, it's the best Las Vegas has to offer. As 20th century art goes, the names are all there but the work is hardly top of the line masterpieces to make the Museum of Modern Art green with envy. But, it's a nice little distraction in the wake of a bad day at the slots.

Water Lilly Pond with Bridge, 1899 Claude Monet
You'll find Picasso's 1942 portrait of his mistress, Dora Maar. The Van Gogh is a peasant woman in a wheat field. Wynn seems to have a taste for figures. Even the Cezanne is a portrait, his 1900 Portrait of a Woman. The Degas is excellent, a pastel and Gouache Dancer Taking a Bow. The De Kooning, Police Gazette is typical de Kooning. The Pollock is typical too in style and technique, though brighter than most of his work, and not as large as we're accustomed to seeing from Pollock. Another show stopper would be the Monet's 1905, Water Lilly Pond with Bridge. One work even manages to be controversial, Henri Matisse's 1928 Odalisque (Oriental Woman Seated on a Floor) purchased from the heirs of the Paul Rosenberg estate via the Seattle Art Museum, the Bloedel family (Seattle lumber barons), the Knoedler Art Gallery in New York, and before that the Nazis, who stole it from the Paris' Rosenburg Galleries during WW II. It joins a lackluster Matisse still-life to add a bit of intrigue to the collection.

La Reve, 1932, Pablo Picasso,
The centerpiece of the collection is Le RĂªve, the Picasso portrait Wynn purchased in 1997 for $48.4 million. In 2006 he reportedly was to sell it to for $139 million, which would have been, at that time, the highest price ever paid for any piece of art. However, while showing it to some guests, Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the canvas. The sale was canceled, and after a $90,000 repair, the painting was estimated to be worth a mere $85-million. Wynn sued his insurance company over the $54-million difference even though the virtual selling price, exceeded his own buying price. The case was settled out of court. Nonetheless, numbering more than 40 works in all, Wynn's collection is a respectable stab at fine art and high culture in a place not particularly known for either.

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