Desert Companion

Museum of the possible

The Nevada Museum of Art Las Vegas stands in sharp contrast to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Whereas the Smith Center is dignified (or one might say even triumphantly staid) in its grand architectural gesture to the Hoover Dam, the Southern Nevada Museum of Art is quietly daring. Its steeply angled, mottled exterior walls glint at certain angles with what looks like random shimmers of starlight — a sly metaphor, perhaps, for the improbability of our radiant city in the desert. One critic has said the structure, designed by noted Southwest architect William Bruder, looks less like a building than a “slow but brash eruption.” Inside the three-story, 70,000 square-foot space is the art — and oh, what art. It reflects Southern Nevada’s history and spirit, certainly, but not exclusively so, not provincially so. It has Dixons and Ruschas and Mondrians. It includes national and international touring exhibits. The collection — challenging, diverse and always apt — carries on a lively dialogue with the rest of the art world. Just as importantly, however, the collection inspires, informs and teaches Southern Nevadans of all ages.

Of course, the Nevada Art Museum of Las Vegas doesn’t exist. But it could.

Let’s keep pretending. It is seeded by $100 million from a Texas billionaire with unlikely ties to Nevada (his wife, a wild-horse activist and art collector, made a fateful foray to Las Vegas, where a tour of the nascent Symphony Park captured her imagination). Riding that wave of momentum, Nevada Museum of Art Las Vegas board members successfully prevail upon Steve Wynn, Jim Murren and the Fertitta brothers to lend — and in some cases, gift — key pieces from their private and corporate collections to the museum, to the pleasant surprise of many.

Support comes from

The Nevada Art Museum Las Vegas is a private nonprofit. Wisely, it’s decided early on that this is an enterprise best unhitched from public institutions, sparing the museum the often painful vagaries of — and postured hostility to — state funding for arts, higher education and social services. (However, the Nevada Art Museum Las Vegas does enjoy a healthy relationship with UNLV’s Art Department, even working out an agreement to house the defunct Las Vegas Art Museum’s permanent collection at the site.)

This all works because, perhaps most crucially, the Nevada Art Museum Las Vegas is an extension of Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art. That umbilical cord means efficiency in terms of shared exhibits, a common board and baked-in expertise and wisdom from an 80-year-old cultural institution to our north. It also means the Nevada Art Museum Las Vegas is already accredited by the American Association of Museums — a valuable rarity in the art world — giving our new museum an instant dose of credibility right out of the gate.

None of this is real. But it’s all possible.

Perhaps a flight of fantasy isn’t the best way to open a fall cultural guide. After all, within these pages are actual events put on by tried, true and time-tested cultural institutions and organizations — well through the end of the year. (The fun starts on p. 51). But who can blame me for the wishful turn of mind? Culturally, we’re on a roll: The Smith Center’s construction continues apace, First Friday proves so muscular it weirdly survives its own cancellation, and two of our latest casino megaplexes continue to trade heavily in their aesthetic cred. We’ve earned the right to a bit of responsible fantasy, don’t you think? Besides, the first step to getting anything done, of course, is to imagine it.

(And as much as I’d like to take full credit for this bit of hopeful fiction, I relied on the following people for their input and ideas: Culturalist Brian Paco Alvarez, Vista Group’s Michael Saltman, UNLV’s Kirsten Swenson and the Nevada Museum of Art’s David Walker.)

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