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The art world is becoming another Las Vegas loser

February 26, 2009|Christopher Knight

"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. In early February, Poju Zabludowicz, chairman and chief executive of the private investment firm Tamares Group, and his wife, Anita, canceled plans to build a $12-million contemporary art museum downtown. In late January, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, loaned out masterpieces from its collection to a Vegas Strip casino for an undisclosed rental fee.

Slumping tourism has battered the gambling mecca, causing some of the 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.

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Christopher Knight

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