Las Vegas—what words and images come to your mind? Sin City? What Happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Neon signs and flashing lights? Or, do you ask yourself these questions: Where would you find world-renowned art to buy? Where are the best Las Vegas galleries located? Let's talk about it.
Fine Art in Las Vegas
If these questions seem out of place, then it is time for you to learn a little more about Las Vegas and its relationship to fine art galleries…. Learn about beginnings and firsts and the experiences Las Vegas offers the art collector. Some of the answers might surprise you ….. and you just might come to realize that Las Vegas is a great location for emerging artists to showcase their work and a city filled with fine art galleries, museums, and outstanding artwork—including sculptures, paintings, and awe-inspiring landscape photography.
The Bellagio – More Than a Backdrop for Ocean’s Eleven
Steve Wynn, who had operated the Golden Nugget Casinos since the early 1970s, was the driving force behind the 1998 opening of the Bellagio, a $1.6 billion hotel-casino. The grandeur of its opening night was cemented forever by the introduction of a new (and soon to become) iconic image—the Bellagio Dancing Fountains—which still thrill Las Vegas visitors today as they watch the nightly shows while standing around the home of the fountains – an 8-acre lake.
The Bellagio Fountains “dance” for a little over three minutes from 4 PM until midnight—perfectly choreographed to a variety of music – classical, show tunes, and pop favorites. The Bellagio Dancing Fountains helped to set the tone for the Las Vegas Strip and are one of the most photographed spots on the strip. It is easy to understand why the closing scene of Ocean’s Eleven with George Clooney and Brad Pitt used the Bellagio Dancing Fountains as the backdrop. Scenes and photographs involving water always awaken our imagination….. whether they are peaceful or dramatic.
But the fountains are not the only iconic image that helps to define the Bellagio. Steve Wynn’s vision for the Bellagio expanded the role of arts and galleries when he opened the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (BGFA). This unusual step for a hotel-casino helped to begin the transformation of Las Vegas’s relationship with the arts community. This emerging art center triggered interest by other reputable art institutions who began to see a new potential for art galleries in Las Vegas.
BGFA past exhibitions have included artwork from Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and many others. The 2,800 square-foot gallery has over the years presented displays of world-class art and objects which they borrowed temporarily from museums and private collections. The end result—the birth of many fine art galleries in the resort corridor that feature masterpieces by famous artists of today and the past. Their paintings and photographs remind us of the importance of art in our daily lives – it enriches us and stops us in our tracks and helps us see the beauty of the world around us.
The Journey from a Small Valley to an Arts Destination
In 1900, the census of the Las Vegas Valley counted only 30 people—most of whom were employees of a cattle ranch in the valley. The population grew slowly with the exception of one area—a legally sanctioned zone permitting prostitution and gambling but in 1901 the Nevada legislative outlawed gambling and the casinos went “underground” to survive.
In 1931 gambling was legalized and Las Vegas soon became a popular weekend destination for residents from Los Angeles. There were many other factors that helped the population of Vegas to grow including the construction of the Boulder Dam (later Hoover Dam) as thousands of dam builders would visit the town each weekend spending time at the casinos. By 1930, the population of Las Vegas was 5,000.
During World War II, Las Vegas benefited from the construction of a nearby military airfield and other defense installations which brought more people to the area. In response, the approach to tourism began to change as hotel owners started offering high-end entertainment featuring performers such as Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Wayne Newton, Elvis Presley, and others.
Over the next several decades, the population of Las Vegas would triple and then double. There is no doubt that the monies from legalized gambling at the local casinos played a large role in the growth of the area. In 1945 the construction of the Flamingo began. This was noteworthy as the Flamingo was the first major hotel/casino complex to be built. Its success spurred the building of other casinos and the area known today as “The Strip” was born. Today The Strip is more than a row of flashy casinos—it is home to major art galleries and world-class hotels.
Art Galleries on The Strip – Then and Now
So many questions come to mind when thinking about The Strip and its iconic images. Exactly what is The Strip? Where is The Strip and how large is The Strip? Where are the best art galleries on The Strip? And what do you want to see in them? If you want to become an art collector, where do you start? I would suggest you first learn about an art gallery’s “identity” – what artists it represents; the genre of artwork–it is contemporary? Traditional? Landscapes? Wildlife? If you are looking for landscapes, then what fascinates you? Mountains? Deserts? Coastlines? Wide-open spaces or intimate rivers and waterfalls?
Let’s first define the area: The Strip is located outside the official city limits of Las Vegas on Las Vegas Boulevard and is approximately 4 miles long. In the 1930s, this road was a barren desert highway but it was also a major route for those traveling to Vegas from Los Angeles. One of the first casinos to open (in 1931) used a play on words and was aptly named Pair O’Dice.
The now-famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” neon sign marks the southernmost point of The Strip and was erected in 1959. The sign and its site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is an iconic photo stop for tourists and photographers as they visit the city and travel to the surrounding southwestern landscapes such as Red Rock Canyon or Death Valley.
Today long-distance travelers use Interstate-15 (built in the 1950s) as they make their way from Los Angeles to Vegas or other well-known landscape destinations such as Red Rock Canyon, Death Valley, Snow Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and California’s Eastern Sierra. Thus, over the decades, the Strip evolved from merely being a road to travel to become a destination that is home to world-class resorts, casinos, and landscape photography galleries.
It has come a long way from its beginnings—a barren desert highway—and is now a part of the iconic Nevada landscape with flashing signs and ornate resorts—a scene different from the surrounding southwest landscapes but of equal value to the lover of art.
First time to Las Vegas and Its Art Galleries – Do Not Miss the Venetian
If this is your first time in Las Vegas, you want the experience to be spectacular. You will want to enjoy not only the casinos and restaurants but also the wide variety of art. One ideal location is the 5-star Venetian resort where you can wander through the Grand Canal Shoppes with its high-end retail shops and quiet cafes.
The entire atmosphere in the hotel takes you to another place–to Venice, Italy–as there are hand-painted frescos adorning the ceilings and the Italian Renaissance influence is evident in the architecture which in itself is a photographer’s dream. Last but not least, thousands of tourists ride the Venetian iconic gondolas (indoor or outdoor) and float past cafes and under balconies and bridges. Riding the gondolas is considered one of the most romantic things to do in Las Vegas. Romantic and intimate settings draw us closer to each other and finding places that say come and sit awhile are a welcome respite in our hectic world.
As you wander the Grand Canal Shoppes, you will be impressed by the depth and variety of galleries. There is the 4,000 square foot Peter Lik Gallery showcasing Peter’s world-class photography. His images—whether they are sunsets, landscapes, rivers, or iconic cityscapes—will make you pause and reflect. This is an important aspect of becoming an art collector as you walk through art galleries—to be intentionally looking to determine what you like and enjoy and want to collect… asking questions….. are you attracted to colors or are you attracted to how the art makes you feel?
Another intriguing gallery to visit in the Grand Canal Shoppes is the Animazing Gallery which is on the other end of the spectrum for art exhibits. This gallery opened in 1984 with an emphasis on conceptual animation art. It acquired a collection of Charles M. Shultz’s comic strips in 1995 and began to focus on American illustrators. As they pursued these illustrators, they discovered works by Theodore Seuss Geisel AKA Dr. Seuss.
This led to the opening of a gallery in Las Vegas in 2017 showcasing illustration art and contemporary art.
As with most brick-and-mortar galleries, their website provides you, the collector, with an opportunity to view the various collections. It is fascinating to view art and drawings depicting actors, actresses, movies, and cartoon characters.
Viewing these illustrations will broaden your knowledge of art and help you define more clearly the direction you want to go. Do you like photographs that focus on colorful scenes and skies such as seen below in this sunrise photo from White Sands National Park or do you prefer big and wide artwork of a mountain range?
Las Vegas Art Galleries and Instagram
The Global art market is changing and the pandemic of the last two years has seen shifts in how galleries handle and promote their artists; there are changing patterns in wealth and spending, and individuals who have had to spend more time at home have come to realize the importance of replacing blank walls or dull artwork with pieces that make them feel alive and connected to the world. The use of online presentations and social media (most notably Instagram) during the ongoing ups and downs of current events can help artists and galleries expand their audience.
One such example is the Martin Lawrence Galleries located in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. If you are fortunate to be in Vegas, then you should walk inside their gallery as you will come face to face with artworks created by renowned 20th artists such as Picasso and Andy Warhol as well as Salvador Dali’s largest oil painting. Their gallery, a 27,000 square foot showcase, is filled with exceptional art.
But the pandemic has also pushed galleries such as this one to use other means to promote their artists and exhibits. For example, Martin Lawrence Galleries has a presence on Instagram where they can promote new releases and allow you to see artwork up close. Their photography Instagram account is not a traditional bricks-and-mortar gallery but functions as a small snapshot gallery which gives you, the art collector, the opportunity to quickly see some of their most important pieces and learn about upcoming events.
Las Vegas and the New Social Media Art Galleries
The bottom line—Las Vegas and its galleries have seen many changes over the years and more are on the horizon. What started out as merely a stop in the road on the way to somewhere else has become a top destination spot...with 5-star hotels, fine dining and entertainment, and exquisite artwork (paintings and photography).
The days of merely being a place to lose some money in casinos are long gone. And if you look outside the city boundaries, you will find breathtaking beauty as the natural landscape of the southwestern Untitled States is spectacular—red rock formations, canyons, and desert scenes.
Whether you are a long-time art collector or just beginning to realize what kind of art you want to add to your home or office, the experience of spending time in a gallery is invaluable to you but if you cannot do so, then you should use social media as your art research and experience tool. Take a social media trip to the iconic Vegas resorts and galleries. I am certain that using social media such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can help you determine your likes and let you find your favorite artists online.
If nothing else, you will be connecting with beauty and will find inspiration as you view and reflect on the online galleries that require only a comfortable chair and a few moments of your time.
Before You Leave…..
I truly enjoy being outside, stomping around, looking for the best location to position my tripod to capture what I am seeing and experiencing. My tagline…. “Bring Home the Experience” … stems from my desire to share with you the beauty I am feeling as I stand there with my hand on the camera….. ready to click the shutter. While looking at my photos, it is my hope that you will find yourself thinking how awesome the scene is … and wish that you were standing there also.
Please contact me if you have any questions or comments or would like to have one of these “magic moments” hanging on a wall in your office or home.