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Las Vegas Casinos Gamble on Art as a Crowd Pleaser

Tourism: Guggenheim Foundation plans to open two galleries on the Strip, hoping to attract attention of city's 36 million annual visitors.


His marketing plan is simple. Rather than organizing traveling Guggenheim exhibits that move from city to city in search of audiences, Krens reasons that he can reach people far more efficiently by simply setting up shop in Las Vegas, with its ready-made audience of 36 million annual visitors.

And that suits tourism officials just fine.

"We are looking to appeal to the type of person who wouldn't have considered coming to Las Vegas in the past," says Erika Brandvik of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority. "The fact that we are getting some renowned artworks is making people who thought we were just cheap buffets and nickel slots take note."

Wynn took some of his masterpieces with him when he left, and MGM Mirage sold others to pay down debt, but the concept of an art gallery in a casino resort remained.

"Increasingly, sophisticated audiences with a variety of needs and interests have created a market for culturally rich experiences in Las Vegas," says Bobby Baldwin, president and chief executive officer of the company's Mirage division.

And the market is there, according to the estimated 1,000 people who visited the Phillips Collection exhibit daily since it opened in September with 26 works at the Bellagio Museum of Fine Arts. The collection included paintings by Edward Hopper, a 400-year-old El Greco and a self-portrait by Paul Cezanne.

Besides, says gallery director Kathleen Clewell, people feel more comfortable looking at art in their casual resort wear, and they are not overwhelmed by an expansive museum like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Phillips ended its run last month to make way for actor, comedian and author Steve Martin's private art collection. Proceeds--after costs--from both exhibits go to charity.

Martin's five-month exhibit is the first public display of his collection of 28 works by Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, David Hockney and Hopper, among others.

"The venue is quite beautiful, and it's a nice, intimate space for what I have," Martin says. "It's a real contrast to the jazzy feel of Vegas."

Artist and actor Martin Mull, whose work is among that being displayed in Martin's collection, compared fine art in Las Vegas to a symphony orchestra in Akron, Ohio.

"It's not where you would expect to find it," he says.

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