Museum-quality artworks in everyday places on the Strip. Here’s how to find them.
The pieces are normally confined to museums and art galleries and can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. Now, anyone can see them free of charge, just by strolling through one of these casinos.
Updated March 29, 2022 - 6:59 am
You step off the escalator, press through the doors from the self-parking garage, and there it is: a 5-foot bronze sculpture depicting a seated body inspired by the Grecian Temple of Zeus, but with a head evocative of the masks of distant African cultures.
Stop, look: It’s right next to the Jumanji 4D penny slots and Posh Burger, home of a $100 wagyu beef patty topped with truffles, foie gras and, of course, gold dust — gotta have that gold dust.
Yes, just off the Aria casino floor, air as heavy with the scent of french fries as those french fries are heavy with calories, sits “Oracle,” a luminous, thought-provoking creation from acclaimed contemporary artist Sanford Biggers.
It’s a small-scale version of the 25-foot-tall, 15,000-pound sculpture of the same name that went on display at New York City’s Rockefeller Center in May.
It’s one of nine new additions from seven artists to the MGM Resorts International fine art collection, which have recently been put on display at the Bellagio, Park MGM and Aria. It’s a range of striking works in various mediums from distinguished contemporary artists such as Rashid Jones, Ghada Amer and Derrick Adams, whose pieces are normally confined to museums and art galleries and can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. (MGM Resorts declined to reveal the value of the new collection.)
“It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to offer these works to the public,” says Tarissa Tiberti, executive director of MGM Resorts Art & Culture, who curated the company’s latest art additions. “Rashid Johnson, I mean, museums have these works.”
A bid for diversity
It was a night of high drama and prices higher still.
Last October, MGM Resorts sold 11 Pablo Picasso pieces in a thrilling auction with renowned art brokerage Sotheby’s that netted $109 million.
The idea: to subsequently diversify its public fine art collection, to focus on underrepresented artists of various genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
“We identified works by women artists, artists of color, the LGBTQIA community,” Tiberti explains. “Our properties are hosting visitors from around the globe; we have a huge platform to share the importance of diversity and inclusion in everyday lives.”
Take Jonathan Lydon Chase, whose artwork is rooted in the domesticities of queer Black life (Chase’s “The Cook Out” is at Park MGM, adjacent to the resort’s lobby); or the aforementioned Biggers, whose latest sculptures combine elements of African and European culture to underscore the ongoing influence of the former on the latter.
That these pieces are located in everyday places — behind a check-in desk at a salon; brightening a dining room wall in an Italian restaurant — is key: You can take them in without even being fully aware you’re doing so. But they have the power to stick with you regardless.
“You want to have an artwork that people come across and enjoy it — they might not even know that it’s incredible artwork — but they go away thinking about it,” Tiberti says. “We have a great opportunity with the properties that we have, to be able to put artwork in many places, places that are unexpected and that you wouldn’t think about, but you can enjoy them walking to the pool, dining at a restaurant, checking in at the front desk. As you’re standing in line, waiting to check in, and you may or may not realize it, but you’re looking at it and having a contemplative experience about it.”
Where to experience it yourself
Here’s a quick guide, with commentary on each selection from Tiberti.
Rashid Johnson, a selection from his “Cosmic Slop” series
Where: A sunlit passageway on Aria’s promenade level
Background: A three-dimensional wall work made of black soap and microcrystalline wax forming a unique, intriguing display.
“This is an important series of work for Rashid. I think for this work, the material is the access point: It’s a concoction of wax mixed with West African soap that’s used for treatment of sensitive skin. It’s monochromatic, with the material that’s important in Rashid Johnson’s culture and how he chooses to use that differently than how it would be used in treatment for your skin. He’s using it to talk about culture and content.”
Derrick Adams, a selection from his “Floater” series
Where: This commissioned piece is a work in progress; it’ll be installed near the Park MGM pool upon completion.
Background: This joyous, brightly colored series features African Americans enjoying a pool setting.
“I think the first things that draw me into the work are just the colors and how he’s making the figures out of shapes. And then you get deeper into it, and you see these figures, and everything has just such an incredible energy to it. I feel like his work is just very energetic, very uplifting, yet he has a very poignant context. He’s talking about the Black experience, and how that is to navigate — through his world, through our country. It’s something that’s fun to look at, but yet it has a meaning behind it.”
Tomás Esson, “Quimera” and “Anestesia”
Where: “Quimera” is just outside the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden; find “Anestesia” by the resort’s VIP lounge.
Background: These gorgeous, arresting abstract oil-on-linen works are like tractor beams for the eyes.
“(“Quimera”) really kind of just jumps off the wall. The colors are so fabulous — really juicy colors — it just draws you in. He’s very interesting. His work talked a lot about eroticism and mythology before. These take a little bit more of a serious tone. His previous works were based on mythology and figures or creatures that were abstract, and he took that abstraction even further. It just provides an energy in the painting that draws you in and captivates you, makes you kind of think, ‘What is happening in this painting?’ And it’s complete, pure abstraction.”
Svenja Deininger, untitled
Where: Aria’s Carbone restaurant
Background: A large, radiant swirl of color and shapes that are immediate, visceral and complex at once.
“It’s really beautiful just in the simplicity and the color, how she has the raw canvas and the blocks. The forms that she’s creating, I think they’re sensual. Her work is interesting; it can be quite complicated, even though it seems very simple in the shapes and the color. She talks about the system of interaction: how the shapes interact with one another. And the size — it’s large, so you become enveloped in the atmosphere that she’s creating.”
Ghada Amer, “Portrait of Elizabeth” and “Portrait of Trini” from her “The Women I Know Part II” series
Where: The check-in desk at the Bellagio Spa and Salon
Background: These two mixed-media, female portraits feature messages such as, “Do not fit into the glass slipper like Cinderella did — shatter the glass ceiling.”
“She’s using a combination of materials. There’s acrylic, so she has the painting, and then she’s doing embroidery on top of it, and it’s also layered with the words in the background. It’s the complexity of the work that is what’s so beautiful about these. Her practice is inherently feminist, but she’s really just looking at the female figure, and the paintings are exploring the gaze and the female identity that are exchanged between the artist and the subject and the viewer. It’s really kind of a beautiful moment.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram.