In the late 1980s when art collector and casino developer Steve Wynn began the wholesale transformation of the Las Vegas strip—taking the casino hotel experience from gaudy, rudimentary, and transactional, to elegant, immersive, and sensational—he would undertake a similar re-envisioning of the city’s landscape, gambling, quite literally, on the idea that the placement of his private art collection into the public spaces and design sensibilities of his hotels could revolutionize the Vegas gaming experience.
Critically, fine art, aesthetics, and accessible connoisseurship were centerpieces of this rebranding exercise. The essential component in Wynn’s Las Vegas venture was setting out with a team of designers, architects, and art experts to personally oversee the construction of his hotels with the aim of redefining the culture of Las Vegas for the 21st century.
During my two-week Eadington Fellowship residency, I have been working to refine my initial analysis of Wynn’s interest and promotion of art to the masses through an examination of the extended network of architects, designers, engineers, executives, and other creative individuals who helped manifest his vision.
To this end, the majority of my research in the UNLV University Libraries Special Collections and Archives has focused on oral history interviews assembled as part of the “Building Las Vegas Oral History Project.” Many of these interviews focus squarely on discussions related to art, spatial aesthetics, and visual design that provide for rare descriptions, special details, and information related to my topic that would be difficult to obtain anywhere else.
At the same time, I have been exploring Wynn’s influence on art collecting and exhibition practices locally and globally. Indeed, the desire to trade in the symbolic capital around which the art world operates is perhaps the guiding principal of Wynn’s entire business model. I have been seeking to unpack powerful configurations, conflations, and meaning making mechanisms that can be taken from the world of Wynn’s casino-hotels as they collide with the shifting world of high art exhibition.
Some of the questions I explore in my talk touch on how, and to what ends, the rebranding of Vegas via art capitalizes on current art world conditions where space, affect, and relational aesthetics take a central focus in art production and exhibition. Moreover, I am interested in how individual acts of conspicuous consumption and public display bring us uncomfortably close to the present conditions of the art world, where esteemed art institutions seek to re-brand themselves within a shifting global art environment.