Artist explores ‘industry of fantasy’ in Las Vegas

Artist Whitney Lynn doesn’t have an interest in exiling herself to a remote cabin in the forest, or an interest in taking any institution up on its offer to put her up in such a cabin.

But Las Vegas? The city could be every bit as fertile as those verdant, natural settings, at least for making art. Lynn will find out as she spends the month of June as the national artist-in-residence with the Neon Museum — the first residency of its kind at the museum, which restores and displays signs from a bygone era.

“I think with the Neon Museum, there’s something just so incredible about seeing these signs that had a very specific function and then now, they’ve become a kind of public art. Those sort of shifts in context were really intriguing to me,” Lynn says.

The 35-year-old artist was chosen from a pool of 20 applicants for her background in signage, a subject the museum, as the home to 200 signs, emphasizes. Lynn chooses from a wide range of media when conceptualizing a piece; previous projects included sculpture, video and photography, performance and sound. Many of her previous pieces incorporate military motifs, such as a child’s couch fort made to look like a concrete bunker. Through pieces such as the 12-minute video of San Francisco’s “Bushman” blocking himself with tree branches and the performance by street musicians in the atrium at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Lynn explores the role of street performers in public space.

At home in San Francisco, she teaches full time at Stanford’s interdisciplinary Honors in the Arts program in addition to producing her own work, which has been exhibited throughout California, New York, Colorado and elsewhere. In 2017, she will assume a residency at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

For Lynn, urban activity begets artistic activity. Lynn says she appreciates the Neon Museum’s approach to a residency not only because she has ample space and freedom to create on her own terms, “but also being in a city, I think there is something about. To make work, I don’t need to be isolated, like that kind of romantic idea of going away and having your space and looking out into the mountains; that actually might make me less likely to produce work, because I get ideas from seeing things.”

Although Lynn is beginning the residency with plans to produce multiple sketches and a final, full-sized sign, she and the Neon Museum have a mutual understanding that the reality she experiences in a living, breathing Las Vegas may redirect her project. She has visited Las Vegas twice before, once as a child and once for a weekend, but both trips were limited to the Strip.

“I have these ideas that I think I’m going to pursue, but then again I came up with those when I was back in San Francisco,” Lynn says during her first day in her studio. “So I’m interested to see how the process is going to shift, what that’s going to be.”

Lynn planned to spend her first week delving into the Neon Museum’s archives and walking the city before ultimately deciding what form the end product will take, be it her original plan for sketches and a sign or a video, sculpture or something else entirely. The result of her month’s work will be displayed at a studio open house from 6 to 8 p.m. June 30 at 418 W. Mesquite Ave., Suite 130.

“It’s the land of having things made — so, set design, prop designers — it’s just ripe with people that you can collaborate with and I think that that was also something that really drew me here was that potential to work with other people that are in this industry of fantasy,” Lynn says.

She will also give a talk midway through her residency at her studio on June 15 starting at 6 p.m.

On the Neon Museum’s end, CEO and President Rob McCoy says they’re on board.

“First and foremost, we want to see what she comes up with,” McCoy says. “We’re very excited to see what she winds up doing. But second of all, I think we want to be an integral part of the arts community in Las Vegas and I think this helps us get there.”

Although in the past the museum has hosted residencies for both parent artists and performing artists specifically, Lynn is the first artist chosen from a national search. This new residency is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Now we have a downtown arts district that is flourishing, it’s growing, it’s maturing and I think the fact that we’re able to have an artist-in-residency program is part of that maturation,” McCoy says.

Contact Sarah Corsa at or 702-383-0353. Find @sarahcorsa on Twitter.

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