Guggenheim Las Vegas

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My first trip to Las Vegas was in 1998. I went to see Bellagio Hotel/Casino, where Steve Wynn put on display his 300 million dollar art collection. Then, three years ago, I felt a need to explain, almost excuse myself for going to Las Vegas. Half-seriously, half-jokingly, I would say, "Art made me do it." Now, I am back. What's my excuse this time? "Art made me do it again." Two world class museums, the Guggenheim and the Russian Hermitage, decided to cash in on the prestige of their names and collections by branching out to Las Vegas.

Striking a special deal with the Venetian Hotel/Casino, the two museums built separate box-like structures, virtually inserted into the luxury Hotel. The larger one, The Guggenheim Las Vegas, is intended for big travelling shows. The smaller one, The Guggenheim-Hermitage, is intended for a joint exhibition of masterpieces from the two museums. The architect for both projects is Rem Koolhaas.

Thomas Krens, the director of the ever expanding Guggenheim empire, played a high stakes gamble by choosing this celebrated Dutch architect. Rem Koolhaas is at the top of his profession, widely respected in professional circles, but not yet known to a wide public. His intellectually rigorous, one may say austere, architecture is the antithesis to Las Vegas. And that's why, I think, he was chosen for this job. The entrance to the museum galleries is through a glittering casino lobby, past clinging slot machines, past expensive boutiques. The casino itself is an over the top recreation of Venetian Canals and piazzas - a little bit silly - but strangely and unexpectedly touching. In this context, Koolhaas' architecture, stripped to its essentials, works as a cold shower cleansing your eyes. It is difficult to like Rem Koolhaas' aesthetic, but it commands and deserves ones respect.

Being inside of the huge, industrial looking Guggenheim Las Vegas is to be dwarfed by its cavernous space. The largest gallery has a 70 by 70 foot pivoting door as well as an industrial bridge crane, which allows to bring in huge works of art.

The inaugural exhibition in the Guggenheim Las Vegas "The Art of the Motorcycle," is a much talked about exuberant presentation of 130 specimens, the earliest one dating back to 1868. When it opened in New York three years ago and later traveled around the world, it broke all attendance records. People who never before stepped inside of a museum stood in line. A strange energy fills the space and it comes, not from motorcycles, but from a palpable tension between contrasting aesthetics of two architects with huge egos. Rem Koolhaas' architecture strikes a pose as if daring you to like it, while Frank Gehry's design conveys his desire to be loved and admired. As far as motorcycles go, I found this exhibition totally unengaging. In spite of the tremendous effort of its designer Frank Gehry, the exhibition looks like a trade show with no expenses spared. Gehry, who famously collaborated with Thomas Krens on their celebrated Bilbao Museum, indulgently repeats himself here in the curving, mirrored walls of the installation, which is all smoke and mirrors. I never thought I would end up feeling sorry for motorcycles.

Next week, let's talk about the amazing exhibition at the second museum, the Guggenheim Hermitage, with its 45 masterpieces of Impressionism and Modern Art.