The use of fine art in Las Vegas hotels has exploded during the past decade, fulfilling desires of returning tourists and exceeding expectations of hotel executives who dream about, acquire and design the art that dots the Strip.
As she wandered the “50 Greatest Photographs From National Geographic” at The Venetian, art lover Jules Pullman was surprised to find herself in Las Vegas, and extending her vacation. Originally, she had to choose between a nearby city known for its museums and Las Vegas.
The 30-year-old art gallery assistant had never been to San Francisco after moving to Sacramento, Calif., from New Mexico six months ago.
“There is nothing more peaceful, inspiring and invigorating for me than checking out art pieces and installations,” Pullman said. “It’s my career, my hobby and my passion.”
She finally packed her bags for Las Vegas after stumbling across a list of available public art in a travel blog.
“I was blown away. Never, never, ever, did I think I’d find so much to see in Las Vegas,” she said while standing in Imagine gallery’s National Geographic exhibit.
It was the second day of her four-day Las Vegas vacation. She has added two more days to get in as much as she’d originally planned.
“I’m on my way to Wynn (Las Vegas) next to check out (its) latest installation by Jeff Koons,” Pullman said. “I’ve had great meals and seen some amazing art while I’ve been here. It’s been much, much more than I ever expected.”
And that’s exactly what local hotel executives have spent years planning in overwhelming detail.
From CityCenter’s famed Typewriter Eraser sculpture to Jeff Koons’ “Tulips” at Wynn Las Vegas and Dale Chihuly’s flowered glass ceiling at the Bellagio, art has blossomed at resorts from the tip of the Strip all the way down the boulevard to downtown.
“We long ago in Las Vegas learned that people come to our town to experience what they can’t experience elsewhere,” said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. “We’ve continued to try with MGM and our properties to evolve our offerings to be a more continually provocative experience for our guests. Not only do they come to us for that, but they keep coming back because they know they will see something different each time.”
Art has always been a part of Las Vegas, although it has played a more subservient role in the past than it does today, he said.
“Art has been part of design with resorts since the beginning,” Murren said. “But art has become a signature item for what it is to be an MGM property.”
On the basic level, art promotes creative thought and stimulates excitement, something the Las Vegas visitor craves.
“We understand that our consumers are more global, more discerning, more experienced, worldlier in their travel habits,” Murren said.
And art itself has evolved to be an essential resort feature.
“When we were developing CityCenter, it became clear to me that we wanted public art to be a language for us,” Murren said. “We are always looking for new ideas, new shows and new experiences for our guests. It’s integral to what we do.”
MGM has spent more than $350 million on art in its Las Vegas properties alone.
“And every element of what we are spending, from rooms to restaurants, no piece of art can be reviewed without being reviewed by me,” he said. “That’s how central and important art is to what we are trying to accomplish.”
And it’s not just about the guest.
“I’ve also learned that art is not only for the public spaces,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in our employee areas to refresh and enliven them and fulfill a promise to our employees I’ve made myself, which is to make the employee experience as important as the guest experience.”
From north to south on the Strip, from its most economical resort to its most exclusive, the company has made an investment in art.
“If you do this correctly, it’s an appreciating asset,” he said. “You can pay $300 for something that can possibly be worth $30,000 years from now.”
One of Murren’s favorite pieces in CityCenter is Maya Lin’s “Silver River” in the lobby of Aria. The piece depicts the Colorado River in recycled silver and was completed in 2009. Murren regularly takes the time to conduct docent tours with Clark County School District children and explains his favorite pieces before he eventually asks questions of the elementary school-aged children.
“It (‘Silver River’) was very important to me on many levels, but I had asked this class what they thought the artist was trying to say in this piece, and one little girl, I’ll never forget, said, ‘Maybe the artist is saying that water is more important than silver,’ ” he said. “I was so impressed. I thought that here we won the game with this generation and maybe they’ll do a better job than we have.”
In the past, Las Vegas was a place where gamblers go on vacation, now it’s a place where vacationers may gamble.
“Now, 80 percent of our revenue is not gaming,” Murren said. “We are more about hospitality, and our business model proves that out. The experience of Las Vegas is a total sensory experience, and art is the cornerstone of that.”
One local casino mogul has been an avid art collector who is passionate about sharing his collection with the public in many areas. Steve Wynn’s latest piece has garnered international attention.
He recently acquired and installed Koons’ “Tulips,” a stainless steel sculpture, at the Wynn Theater entrance. Placed on a mirrored base and protected by constant security, the impressive piece will be at Wynn Las Vegas for three years before being moved to Wynn Resorts’ Macau property.
Wynn had been eyeing it in the Christie’s auction house’s catalog; but at $34 million, it would be the highest price ever paid for a Koons sculpture. That’s quite a gamble, even for as passionate a collector as Wynn has proved to be.
“It is very beautiful, it is very dramatic and it is very important, and those are the three things we look for in an acquisition, particularly Steve,” said Roger Thomas, Wynn Resorts’ executive vice president of design .
Thomas and Wynn meet regularly , with the two bringing different ideas to the table. However they both appeared to be on the same page at the end of a meeting last year when they each mentioned they had something special to chat about.
“I had brought the Christie’s catalog and he had brought the catalog, and he had said there’s something I want to talk about at Christie’s and we both brought up the same piece, which was a surprise,” Thomas said. “It’s an extraordinarily beautiful object for people to be around.”
The two traveled to New York to get a closer look at “Tulips.”
“It was better in person than either one of us expected. It had a greater presence than the sum of its parts, which is vital for great art,” he said. “The greatest paintings feel much bigger than they actually are (physically).”
Why make art an integral part of the guest’s experience?
“The feeling at Wynn Resorts is that a big part of our charge is to create a unique environment that speaks of drama, humor, mystery,” Thomas said. “It is, we feel, kind of cinematic so that when you are with us you have a heightened sense of who you are.
“It is exciting in the moment and makes you want to explore and find out more about us as well.”
Wynn Resorts was recently honored as the highest ranking casino resort company on Fortune magazine’s 2013 Most Admired list in the hotel, casino and resort category. Wynn Resorts ranked high in several areas including quality of services, innovation and financial soundness, receiving a ranking of No. 5 overall on the distinguished list.
This is why the Wynn Resorts guest tends to return often throughout the year.
“We want them to discover something new, something exciting and something surprising in each of those visits,” Thomas said. “So we do that in layering. Great environments are a combination of those things. If we’ve done it right, it is original and it elevates you.”
From the design of the chairs to the fabrics used in the rooms, in the casino and in the restaurants, many details add up to an overall design that heightens the senses and is unique to Wynn properties.
“Art always ennobles and adds a layer of finesse and interest, a sense of intrigue that you can only get through art,” he said. “Great art makes us ask questions about who we are and where we are. A nd that is what we are all about at Wynn.”
Art became a central part to the Golden Gate, Las Vegas’ original hotel-casino, as company executives made decisions for a recent renovation. The expansive renovation expanded the casino and features a porte-cochere and luxury tower. For the design, the company researched and acquired original, historic black and white images from the city’s history. The original images include shots of showgirls, the Rat Pack and other celebrities .
“The goal of our recent renovation is to give Golden Gate a fresh, cutting edge,” said Mark Brandenburg, president and co-owner of the Golden Gate.
The art was carefully chosen and hung. The images are not only iconic, but inspiring.
“We are the Las Vegas original casino, and members of the Rat Pack, from Dean Martin to Sammy Davis Jr., they all played here,” he said. “They represent for us a meaningful part of our city’s history, the embodiment of that Las Vegas attitude and party scene. And we’ve always been a cutting-edge party scene.”
The authenticity is unique to the Golden Gate.
“You feel that when you walk inside and that is important to us,” he said. “On one level you are stepping into this Las Vegas past, and on the other we are more relevant to today’s guests and fulfilling their expectations on a higher level than most.”
Another iconic image of Las Vegas is that of its Wild West origins. At South Point, guests of the Silverado Steakhouse are welcomed by Western-themed art as soon as they step into the eatery, a locals’ favorite. Each piece of art perfectly complements the experience guests are looking for when they decide to dine at Silverado, South Point General Manager Ryan Growney said.
“I’ve lost count of the number of customers who return because they love the cowboy-theme art and murals, but our local regulars number in the hundreds,” Growney said.
South Point owner Michael Gaughan has always had a love for Western culture, and he created a hidden local gem with Silverado Steakhouse.
“Mr. Gaughan wanted guests to be fully immersed in a ‘Vintage Vegas’ dining experience that honored Las Vegas’ Western-culture beginnings,” Growney said. “One of my favorite pieces is a rodeo-themed vintage photograph that is actually hung upside down. This was done by accident and quickly noticed by our management team, but it had become such a great conversation piece among our regulars that we decided to leave it upside down.
“Even today, our regulars can’t wait to make their friends or other first-time guests at nearby tables guess which photo isn’t right.
“Our hand-painted murals also attract lots of attention since they provide a great backdrop for the Western theme we’ve created at Silverado.”
Hotels have become important to the success of art through their support, aside from the room and convention space, said Milo Kostelecky, director of operations for the Las Vegas Film Festival.
LVH has become as much a part of the festival’s success as the films that are showcased.
“It gives us an opportunity to screen a larger array of films because (it offers) two theaters that we can use simultaneously,” Kostelecky said. “LVH is a truly good fit for our out-of-town visitors and guests. It’s a good alliance all the way around.”
The sixth-annual Las Vegas Film Festival returns to LVH July 18-21. The festival has more than 60 original films, shorts and documentaries this year that will be shown during the four-day event.
Festival guests prefer to be close to all the activities, ceremonies and film enthusiasts throughout the four-day event, and LVH is intent on making the guests’ stay as entertaining and inspired as what they will see on the screens.
“There has been a great influx of support of the arts with Las Vegas hotels,” Kostelecky said. “They are much more inspired by artistic traveling class.”
The festival is expanding to include monthly mixers, including a two-hour cocktail party May 16 at Firkin on Paradise, an English pub at 4503 Paradise Road. There will be a screening of the documentary “Don’t Stop Believing” following the open bar and appetizer event.
The festival’s growth has been aided by the hotel’s focus on including art as an option for its guests.
“We are definitely riding a wave of momentum,” Kostelecky said. “It’s a good relationship between (art events) and hotels.