Bellagio exhibit takes ‘Survey of the Human Form’

Elvis is crying tears of gold.

Or is he sweating? Or both?

Raining down his bronzed face from his coal-black hair, it streaks past soulful eyes, drips past the sensual mouth, even hangs off a gash on his cheek.

Stayed too long at Heartbreak Hotel?

Actually, he’s checked into the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, where artist Keith Haring’s depiction hangs, superimposing ink and gold paint on a poster of the dashing, up-and-coming rock ’n’ roll king.

“With this theme we found some very interesting works,” says Tarissa Tiberti, director of the Strip gallery, about “Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form,” its latest long-standing exhibit, running through Jan. 9.

Observe the form, in all its forms: languorous, rigid, awkward, at work, at rest, at play, at attention, in performance, in thought, in flesh, in X-ray, suited up, stripped down (those would be the supermodels) — oh, and Picasso.

As if you could miss him. That’s him, a few feet from Elvis, in “Bust of a Man,” in which a musketeer wears a wig’s curly locks and holds a pipe while dressed in a richly colorful costume that makes him look like a cubist jack-in-the-box.

Creatively depicting the body as art, “Figuratively Speaking” hosts more than 30 pieces culled from the MGM Mirage Fine Art Collection, as well as contributions from the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. An all-star artist roster, notably featuring Pablo Picasso, also includes, among others: Pierre-August Renoir, Alberto Giacometti, Joseph Cornell, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Judith Shea and Bill Viola, their interpretations spanning from the late 19th to early 21st centuries.

Just as varied is the mixed media aspect covering oils, sketches, lithographs and video installations, as well as intriguing approaches such as Haring’s Elvis. “I really like to make it a mixed media type of event, especially in the case of a figurative exhibition,” Tiberti says. In one such piece, “Boy with a Pipe, After Pablo Picasso,” artist Vik Muniz — who reconstructs well-known paintings — uses layers of powdered pigment that he places with tweezers and small spoons on a flat cardboard, which he photographs. The result looks like a photo-painting — or perhaps a painting-photo, depending on where the viewer finds the emphasis.

“You’re showcasing the artists’ work, not only across the centuries but across the mediums,” Tiberti says. “It’s not only about mediums, it’s also about process.”

Elsewhere, Yousuf Karsh’s 1963 portrait of Bolshoi Ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya pictures her body only, positioned in balletic form, framed in light and shadow. Pop culture — particularly the Japanese animation of “Gigantor” and “Speed Racer” — influences Yoshitomo Nara’s “After the Deluge,” in which an innocent child with large, imploring eyes stands in a pool of water.

Playing with perception, Chuck Close’s “Paul IV,” depicting 1930s artist Paul Cadmus, is, up close, a gridlike series of squares and concentric circles that, viewed when one steps back, coalesces into a complete portrait. “The Sweeper,” Renoir’s oil-on-canvas, catches a spontaneous moment of a woman sweeping, seemingly unaware of the artist’s gaze.

Photo works include Vanessa Beecroft’s three-panel, sculpturelike take on photographer Todd Eberle’s portrait of Navy SEALS, in their dress whites, posed in formations three deep.

“It was picturing them as more like Roman marble pillars, and it’s interesting next to the Herb Ritts photograph of the women,” Tiberti says, referring to the black and white image of models Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patiz and Naomi Campbell in radiant youth, wrapped around one another as a singular image of feminine beauty, the models nude and clinging, limbs strategically placed around each one, and each other.

“They’re more gracefully posed and clumped together in a very different way than the soldiers, so it’s interesting how the female body is used.”

Nearby, Nick Cave’s startling sculpture of a figure made of fabric teems with metal tins protruding like porcupine needles, bearing vintage pop-culture images including clowns, the original, Rex Harrison “Doctor Dolittle” and Bugs Bunny. “He calls them ‘sound suits,’ because you can think about what kind of sound it would make if you were moving around in it,” Tiberti says.

Creepy fascination is evoked by Tony Oursler’s video installation, “Stepfather,” in which a large eyeball is projected onto a sphere suspended from the ceiling, blinking and darting, watching a TV screen, its image reflected in the eye.

Perhaps it’s shedding a nostalgic tear watching the Elvis comeback special.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.