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New CityCenter is a haven for contemporary art

Works by Maya Lin, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen and Nancy Rubins are housed in the $8.5-billion, mixed-use development on the Strip.

October 11, 2009|Jay Jones

LAS VEGAS — A sea of people wearing hard hats and reflective vests moved in and out, up and down among the slot machines, still covered with drop cloth. Everyone had a role to play, almost like a well-choreographed, contemporary ballet. But instead of brass and winds, there was the discord of drills, circular saws and beeping electric vehicles.

Across a grimy marble floor, a woman stood beside what will soon be the registration desk of Aria, one of four hotels that will anchor CityCenter, the $8.5 billion, mixed-use development south of Bellagio on the Strip. Her white hard hat only partly hiding her long black hair, she looked up at a huge floor-to-ceiling wall of glass.

Instead of construction, though, she was overseeing the installation of a solid silver sculpture, an 84-foot-long ribbon depicting the course of the Colorado River. In the morning light, it contrasted sharply with the somber Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- her best-known work.

"I'm very, very hands-on," artist Maya Lin said last week as her work was carefully hoisted into place on the glass wall. "I have to be here right now to make sure that it feels right as far as the lighting."

Lin is just one of several world-class artists whose works will be displayed at CityCenter when it opens in December. All will be in public areas, indoors and out, and none will cost a penny to see.

The Colorado is the latest in Lin's "Silver River" series. She's also turned the Columbia, Mississippi and Missouri rivers into sculptures. Her design of the Yangtze River -- made of stainless-steel pins embedded in a wall -- greets visitors to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

"Water is an incredible resource that we really can't waste, and we want to really be thinking about that," Lin said.

Vegas, then, is the right backdrop for this work, which takes on a certain poignancy here in this desert city. Ninety percent of the water that the city's 2 million residents use comes from the Colorado River.

"Our relationship to water resources is really going to change in the next 10 to 20 years," Lin said of the continuing influx of people to the Southwest, all of them demanding a share of that water.

"I think what I'm trying to do is reveal an aspect of the natural world that you might not be thinking of. And maybe you're going to get more curious. But I've always said I don't like to preach through [my] work."

Lin, an active environmentalist, pointed out that the metal for this sculpture, as with all her works of silver, is 100% recycled.

"For the smaller sculptures, they're almost always reclaimed from medical and X-ray pro- cessing, basically stuff that normally would be thrown out," she said. But for "the quantity of silver that we needed for this piece . . . I'm sure there's a lot of flatware in there as well," she said with a laugh.

Lin's sculpture is one of what curator Michele Quinn called "five pivotal pieces" in the CityCenter collection. During the last four years, she has spent nearly $40 million on commissions -- Lin's included -- and acquisitions. That money has paid for 22 pieces, making CityCenter's one of the largest corporately owned art collections in the world.

Among the existing works purchased are pieces by renowned artists Henry Moore and Claes Oldenburg, and Coosje van Bruggen. Moore's "Reclining Connected Forms" is a large, abstract sculpture of a baby wrapped in a mother's embrace. Oldenburg and Van Bruggen's work is a realistic, 19-foot-tall sculpture of an old-fashioned typewriter eraser.

Two other works are also showcased. Nancy Rubins' "Big Edge" is fashioned from chunks of more than 200 watercraft, including aluminum rowboats and wooden canoes. Jenny Holzer's 280-foot-long sign features a new artistic medium: LED lights.

An interpretive map will guide people to the various works, which are placed throughout the 67-acre lodging, shopping, and entertainment complex.

"I think our artists are happy their works are going to live and breathe," Quinn said. "They are excited by the work being seen by a new audience.

"You know, Vegas [visitors are] not your typical art audience. . . . Some of these people will have never seen these artists."

With Lin's silver river in place and other works being installed in the coming weeks, the curator is reticent about picking a favorite.

"It's so hard for me to say because it's almost like, 'Who's your favorite child?' " Quinn said. "It's really difficult."


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