Cultured Vegas: Where to Find Art, Creativity and Bohemia in Sin City

September 29, 2016 / Las Vegas

There was a time when art in Las Vegas referred mostly to the wildly plumed headwear and abbreviated sequined costumes of leggy showgirls in the follies. Today, in a town that often rivals Dubai in what it can buy, art is part of the money fabric and shows itself boldly on casino walls, precious fine arts galleries and oddly placed sculptures getting attention from some of the 40 million visitors that come through the city each year.

Still, with so many visuals vying for attention in Las Vegas, most of the art disappears under the throbbing lights and amoebic crowding. For those willing to pause and look, the following is where you’ll find the art of Las Vegas.

The Strip

Aria at CityCenter has made significant investments in the art world and disperses the works, free for the viewing, throughout the hotel and City Center complex. A not insignificant sum of $40 million was set aside for public art on the $8.5 billion, 67-acre campus, with work by top artists: Henry Moore, Maya Lin, Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella among them. Visitors can wander through Aria and see Maya Lin’s Silver River hanging over the reception area. Frank Stella’s Damascus Gate Variation I is in the lobby of Vdara. Jenny Holzer’s Vegas is installed in Aria’s north valet pickup area. Download a brochure and start your tour.

The Cosmopolitan next to CityCenter was also built with art in mind and you see it in the sweeping contemporary presentations available right from the entrance. The west lobby area is wrapped in mesmerizing digital displays: eight columns in dynamic patterns, pictures and colors only add to all the kinetic frenzy but manage to totally engage attention.

A giant three-story chandelier sweeps over the Chandelier Lounge and makes you feel as if you are floating in a sea of Swarovski crystals. Don’t miss the wall of sewing machines across from the lounge. Yes, a wall of some 1,100 antique sewing machines and no doubt the largest such wall in America.

Find unusual art pieces throughout the property and in surprising places. Take a piece home with a $5 investment in the Art-o-Mat vending machine on the second floor.

Bellagio may have started the art trend in Las Vegas when it opened in 1998 with a gallery full of modern and impressionist pieces by famous masters hand-collected by Steve Wynn. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is still serving up classics to the culture-hungry in Las Vegas with its permanent collections as well as special guest exhibits. See works by Renoir, Picasso, Warhol, Monet, van Gogh, Hockney and many other favorites within an easy presentation that takes less than an hour to peruse. General admission is $17.

Downtown Arts District

Las Vegas has its own Greenwich Village of sorts. An 18-block expanse of the Downtown area, about four miles north from Bellagio down Las Vegas Boulevard caters to artists and bohemians with galleries, loft spaces, large working studios and a plethora of intriguing antique, clothing and notion stores. This is the Las Vegas that few, but the locals, see although it is all there in plain sight.

Officially known as 18b, find the Arts District running from the Fremont East Entertainment district to the Stratosphere Resort, heavily concentrated around Main and Charleston, with Commerce Street to the West, Hoover Avenue to the North, Fourth Street to the East and Wyoming Avenue at the south. Wander the streets for elaborate grafitti art. Amble into the Holsum Bread Building or The Arts Factory to see what the local artists are up to. Find plenty of artsy cafes, kitschy restaurants and bizarro bars that make this area a funky favorite with those in the know. The district opens its studio and gallery doors every First Friday of the month from 6pm to 11pm for an open meandering block party celebrating art and culture. More than 100 artists participate in a kaleidoscope of activity inside the studios and out on the streets.

Desert Divinations

For those curious enough to check out what artsy secrets lie beyond the Strip, the desert holds some strange surprises.

Check out The Seven Magic Mountains installation at an outpost about 25 minutes south from the Strip off Las Vegas Boulevard looking east. Tabbed locally as the Las Vegas Stonehenge, the artist Ugo Rondinone took five years and $3.5 million to construct what are essentially seven rock pillars or cairns towering more than 30 feet high and contrasting the bland dusty expanse with a palette of glowing neon hues.

Adventurists can take the hunt for art in the desert a little bit further – to Goldfield just under three hours up U.S. 95 north. There, some two miles from the town, find the Car Forest of the Last Church. While many are still debating the true artistic merit in the work it is indeed an oeuvre to behold made up of around 40 old rusted junker vehicles stacked or embedded in the ground using the desert as the canvas. The work by a Reno artist stretches for about a half mile through the vast terrain. There are no signs or interpretations here, and no signs to direct. The display lies a few hundred yards east of U.S. 95 on the south end of Goldfield signaled only by a burned out bus.