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THE MOVABLE BUFFET

Art show's out to rock Sin City's world

May 11, 2008|Richard Abowitz | Special to The Times

I never expected to attend an exhibit in Vegas showcasing the work of photographer Mick Rock. Rock is famous for his classic shots of the glam and punk eras: David Bowie, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry and too many others to list. And he has stayed active, with this show including images of Las Vegas' the Killers.

Symbolic Gallery is located behind the Strip facing the under-construction parking garage for MGM's CityCenter. This is an industrial area not too far from where the topless bars are zoned. But it does have the colorful name of Dean Martin Drive.

Still, the gallery is all one would expect from high-end art, with wine being served on trays to invitation-only guests and a violin and viola gently setting the mood (albeit performing arrangements of songs by Queen, Blondie and Bowie). There was even a suitably grandiose curator, Warwick Stone, who told me: "I am single-handedly trying to raise rock photography up a rung on the ladder from entertainment to a pure art."

Rock finally arrived like one of the characters from his photos: frilly hair, shades -- think Ian Hunter. An associate with a videocam documented his every move. And Rock was a total rock star. My favorite observation was that Rock had a small, black handbag. But for some reason he did not like carrying the handbag, and so the publicist for Symbolic Gallery, in suit and tie, wound up following Rock while bearing the bag in question.

Looking around the room of his glam-era photos of Iggy in silver pants and Bowie during his Ziggy years and Reed from the "Transformer" album cover, Rock observed: "Back then I don't think any of these people would have come to Vegas. I don't think you could have paid them enough. It would have compromised them. But I'll tell you one thing for sure, no one thinks that about Vegas anymore."

A couple of hours into the opening, an actual rock star showed up: Slash. Interestingly, he has not been photographed by Rock; the guitarist is just a fan. I asked Slash what he liked so much about Rock's shots, and he offered some earnest yet expletive-laden praise. I told him I could not use that quote for the paper, so the veteran guitarist shrugged and pragmatically offered: "OK, then, his photos capture something about the essence of rock 'n' roll."

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With Oprah, it's three of a kind

If THERE is one place on Earth that Oprah Winfrey should not matter, it is Las Vegas. Nothing against her, but what does she have to do with gambling, partying and doing things that are bad for you and wasting your money in degenerate ways?

What do I know? On a recent weekend, the hottest ticket in town turned out to be to a taping of Winfrey's TV show at Caesars Palace. The guests included back-in-town headliner Cher as well as Tina Turner. One reason the tickets were so hard to get was that unlike almost everything else in Las Vegas, you could not buy one. To get a ticket you needed to be really connected in Vegas or Oprah-land.

I now know why taping an hour-long show takes five hours. There were an exhausting 40-plus minutes of preparation in which we had to learn how to do the "golf clap" and to make the proper sound for seeing "something cute." Much was shot twice.

Turner was meant to break the news that she was ending retirement and going on tour. Instead, she wandered about in an answer so convoluted that Oprah finally blurted out the applause moment. They reshot the answer so Turner could say succinctly that she was returning to the road. No Vegas show was announced.

The highlight from a Vegas perspective was when Cher premiered a fully produced "Take Me Home" with live vocals from her show that had yet to open. We learned the show would have plenty of showgirls in sequins and Bob Mackie gowns.

At one point Oprah joked that she had a good hand for Vegas: two queens. That was funny because unacknowledged was that the audience was really summoned to see a third queen.

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