Collectors Edition

Observe the art. Just don’t trip over it.

“There’s art everywhere, coming out of the walls, coming out of the floors,” says Elizabeth Pangburn, museum educator of the Las Vegas Art Museum. “The only place it’s not coming out of right now is the ceiling.”

Should such a refined cultural facility sprinkle its floors with “Smurfs”? Pieces resembling liquid blobs that seem expelled from some unseen overhead drip that pooled and hardened right where they landed?

Sure. C’mon, nobody likes a sculpture snob.

“You can always tell when someone experiences something they hadn’t before because they walk in and it’s, ‘Oh!’ and then the brightness in the eyes,” Pangburn says about the artwork in “Las Vegas Collects Contemporary,” an exhibit running through October showcasing pieces on loan from private collectors in Las Vegas.

“So many of the children, especially, don’t want to leave, there’s always something else to see.”

Among the artists represented are Venske & Spanle, responsible for the abstract marble “Smurfs” that bid you to look downward as well as outward when touring the show. Other contemporary artists responsible for the 40 works on display include Andy Warhol, Jean-Michael Basquiat, Dan Flavin, Takashi Murakami, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Jennifer Steinkamp and Uta Barth.

Though not all donors have revealed themselves, several have, and they include some prominent Las Vegas names, such as Glenn Schaeffer, Penn and Emily Jillette, Lorenzo and Teresa Fertitta, Frank III and Jill Fertitta, Jim and Heather Murren, and Laila and Anthony Spiegel.

“Here’s evidence of the extraordinary collections that are blossoming like crazy here in the valley to announce the vibrancy of the arts community that’s growing here in Las Vegas,” says Libby Lumpkin, the museum’s executive director, who was able to shake loose collectors’ grips on certain selections in their collections for this exhibit, despite insurance and transportation issues.

“Unfortunately, people cannot look into private homes and see the amazing work residing here in Las Vegas,” Lumpkin says. “Sometimes I’d want something, and they just couldn’t part with it, but they were very generous to let me pry something out of their hands that I absolutely wanted so badly, and they all provided something when asked.”

Eclecticism electrifies “Las Vegas Collects,” with inventive approaches everywhere.

Steinkamp’s video art strikes visitors first. Her “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is a moving (literally) meditation on the rhythm of nature with computer-generated poppies hypnotically swaying to a gentle breeze. Nearby is the electric-light pop art of neon pioneer Flavin, whose untitled geometric pieces glow with tubular simplicity and invite endless interpretation — or maybe it’s just an expanded, illuminated tick-tack-toe board: You decide.

“The Thinker,” Saint Clair Cemin’s startling figure, resembles, at first glance, a pensive, stainless steel Michelin Man, waves of cascading ridges coalescing into a form splayed on the ground, legs apart, featureless head tilted down as if deep in thought. Massimo Vitali’s chromogenic print, “Anfi Single,” is an idyllic beach depiction, beautiful white sand peppered with humanity in seaside repose on the sand and in the water. And Vik Muniz’s fascinating “Small Change” depicts a giant quarter assembled out of a mass of pennies. Every detail, including George Washington’s indelible profile, is meticulously re-created.

“Some people go through several times because they see something new each time,” Pangburn says of an exhibit that veers away from the museum’s normal path.

“People love this show,” Lumpkin says, “but it’s not the kind of show that I necessarily do very often, which is completely without focus. It’s more of a showcase exhibition.”

In Lisa Eisner’s “Butterfly Grill,” the beautifully winged creatures flutter against a massive truck’s front grill, a compelling contrast of brute machinery and nature’s gentility. “EM Arena 2,” by Gursky, depicts a dizzying aerial view of a soccer match, players deployed across the field like little soldiers. And the bright, childlike “Vapor Trail” is Murakami’s montage of vivid, primary-colored flowers wearing huge, life-loving grins.

Then there’s Kara Walker’s lithograph, “I’ll Be a Monkey’s Uncle,” which is … um, it’s … well, it kinda shows …

You’d better see for yourself. It’s from the collection of — oh, of course — Penn Jillette.

“The points I wanted to make with this show are that there are very important works that are held in private collections here by top-ranked artists, and also that there’s a wide spectrum of types of private collections,” Lumpkin says. “To bring together a true cosmopolitan art scene you need a lot of things to come together, and people who are collecting and have a passion for contemporary art.”

Appreciate the art with pure abandon. Just don’t trip over it.

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

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