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Art in Las Vegas rolls snake-eyes

February 25, 2009 | 10:15 am


"Fabulous Las Vegas" got a bit less fabulous in the last few weeks, at least for art.

  • On Saturday, news broke that the Las Vegas Art Museum would shutter its doors at the end of the month, following steep budget cuts and the Dec. 2 resignation of Director Libby Lumpkin. LVAM had been raising its formerly sleepy profile in recent years.
  • In early February, Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, chairman and chief executive of the private investment firm Tamares Group, canceled plans to build a $12-million contemporary art museum in an old fingerprinting building on East Fremont Street downtown. The couple, who began collecting art in the 1990s, might revive the idea when the economy recovers.
  • In late January, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, pimped out masterpieces from its collection to a Vegas Strip casino for an undisclosed rental fee. The rental from a nonprofit museum to a commercial enterprise violates various professional museum standards.

Slumping tourism has battered the gambling mecca, causing some of the aforementioned distress. But the town has never had a reputation for cultural philanthropy. Perhaps it's the Sin City mind-set, plainly in operation with the MCA San Diego deal, that if it doesn't make money it isn't worth doing.

Here's how the city's mayor, Oscar Goodman, responded to the Las Vegas Sun when asked about the Zabludowiczes' change of plans:

"I don't see a museum for art as necessary downtown," Goodman said. "The masters are on the Strip. There's also a round-trip plane fare to Los Angeles. It's not necessary to have an art museum. I want a mob museum."

That would be mob as in gangsters, not crowds.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Gabriel Bouys / AFP / Getty Images