Way back in 2007 I had a solo exhibition in a gallery in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was a successful exhibition that was well promoted, with strong attendance at the opening, and we sold enough artwork to make it profitable for both artist and gallery. The gallery was located near downtown, in an area being re-developed as an ‘Arts District.’ But, as it so often goes, the gallery didn’t last long as the owners moved onto other ventures and closed the gallery. My presence in the Vegas art scene was positive, but short-lived. Despite my successful sales record and good reviews, no other gallery ‘picked me up’ and I was out of the Las Vegas market.
Although I go to Las Vegas at least once a year I didn’t seek out another gallery until seven years later. In the spring of 2014 I had a business trip scheduled for Las Vegas and decided I’d re-check the Vegas art scene, so prior to my trip I did some online research. While surfing the web I discovered that the Vegas downtown ‘Arts District’ had been further developed. The ‘Arts Factory’ under development back in 2007 was fully-occupied and there were a number of new galleries and studios in the area. Some of the galleries’ websites were quite impressive and one in particular stood out. Their website featured some interesting art and two people with impressive credentials. One co-curator had run a software design studio for nearly 20 years. His stated goals were to “…re-invent the gallery experience and show works that are bold and relevant… memorable… powerful and stimulating… they must be shared!” The other co-curator was a “former creative director… heavily involved in branding… [and] the gallery is not your stuffy fine arts gallery.” Impressive sounding and right for me, I thought. So I decided I’d check out the entire district and pay extra special attention to that gallery with the impressive website.
After finishing my scheduled business in Las Vegas I headed downtown to the ‘Arts District.’ First I noticed that, with the exception of Fremont Street, the downtown area is still seedy and run-down looking. Not a good impression. Since my former gallery from 2007 was located on the fringe of the developing ‘Arts District’ I drove past it. Expecting to see a different gallery in that space I was dismayed to find a tattoo parlor in its place ---with a bail bonds office next door. Not good, and I wasn’t even in the official ‘Arts District’ yet. Rounding the corner onto Charleston Boulevard I found the ‘Arts District’ and immediately wondered if (any) Mercedes-driving, discretionary-income-type art collectors would be paranoid parking their cars there on Gallery Opening Night. Maybe the area looked less seedy at night? Parking my car I waited for the drunken homeless man to pass before exiting the car and setting the alarm (which I rarely use) and headed into the ‘Arts Factory,’ a place that, seven years ago was just cranking up and was full of artist-run bohemian energy. Not much energy this time and, aside from my wife and myself, there were no patrons, no ‘lookers’ or anyone shopping for art. Although the building was filled with small galleries, studios and one restaurant there was nothing going on. We met one very friendly (and, I think, lonely) artist who was very chatty but aside from him, nobody. Some of the galleries were closed. We wandered through one gallery but the girl behind the counter didn’t look up. There was one tiny photography gallery but we didn’t go in for fear of interrupting the two people clicking away on laptop computers. We didn’t want to intrude on their Facebook time.
There was another arts building across the street so we went there next. We wandered into the not-yet-ready Polaroid museum and had a nice chat with a fellow dedicated to instant photography but we moved on as we were seeking galleries and not camera-museums. We knew things weren’t right when we found the building’s main door locked during business hours. Walking around the side of the building we discovered that gallery with the impressive website, and we discovered its doors locked too. Continuing our lap around the building we finally found an open door and entered the dark space. Perhaps an interior door will open into the impressive-website gallery? No, that door was locked too. The gallery was closed and dark. Peering through the windows we saw framed photographs on the walls of a rather small and mundane white-cube type of gallery. I don’t recall the subject matter of the photographs although I might have had they been “memorable, powerful or stimulating.” The impressive website was nothing but a front for another same-old art gallery, which was closed during business hours indicating that its “co-curators” must have been at their day jobs. No sign with business hours or, ‘by appointment’ was visible. The buildings’ other galleries were closed as well, ‘by appointment’ signs on their doors. We briefly considered having lunch at the ‘Arts Factory’ restaurant, but since it was empty we opted to go back to the hotel, where the food was of known quality.
So that was it, a brief mid-week, mid-day bust. Move along, there’s nothing to see here despite the big sign that says ‘Arts District.’ I didn’t meet a single gallerist or show a portfolio or even talk to a gallery person. I slid my business card under the door of the gallery with the impressive website ---it’s probably stuck to the bottom of some ‘co-curator’s’ shoe--- assuming anyone even came to the gallery since then.
I’m not dead, or a market-savvy producer of lame commercial art like Thomas Kinkade or Peter Lik, so going to any uptown galleries was pointless. It was time for lunch and a drink, and perhaps another drink. I’m not going to be exhibiting in Las Vegas in the foreseeable future, nosiree.
There is no easy-to-find mid-level art in Las Vegas. Sure, there are Peter Lik’s vanity galleries full of overblown, oversized and overpriced stock-and-standard landscape photographs. And there’s the High Art found in the gallery/museum at The Bellagio but, aside from that kind of flash there’s little left but the bohemian art that nobody buys. The ‘Arts District’ was a nice idea ---for the real estate developers, but it’s just a way to ‘art up’ an area until it’s acceptable to go there, raise the rents, kick out the artists and covert the place to trendy ‘lofts.’ I think the downtown Vegas Arts District will remain low-rent bohemian artists’ studios/galleries for a long time. I really don’t see Rich Folk parking expensive cars in an area that reeks of High Theft and slumming it among the paint-splattered ‘art spaces.’ No ‘art acquisition manager’ is going there seeking art for hotels, offices, public spaces or private residences. If there are any discoveries to be made I don’t think they’ll be discovered there. It’s just another low-rent, funky, bohemian arts district populated and visited mainly by artists. And mainly they just show their own and each other’s stuff.
And that gallery with the impressive web presence? Well, anybody can look good in cyberspace but in actual space… not so much. Although I would like to meet their web-designer.