MAS Vegas: Notes On The Vegas-L.A. Art Connection



It's Saturday, in the seam between afternoon and evening. On the pitted asphalt outside VAST Space Projects, you encounter Max Presneill, a motive force behind MAS Vegas, about which more in a minute. Around you, arty types from Vegas and L.A. chat and drink in the pre-dusk swelter, clustering beside the food truck out front, inside the art-crammed warehouse, by the performance-art BBQ in the back (mmm, tasty brisket of art!). Inside, the walls and floors are packed with such a disarray of paintings, sculpture, video and sound pieces, unclassifiable hybrids — all of it so aesthetically and politically diverse that no theme, scheme or meme could tie everything together — that you overheard two artists debating about which combination of drugs a viewer would need to properly experience it. (LSD and meth, it seems.) There's enough work in there to render VAST's 5,000 square feet decidedlyunvast.

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Which brings us back to Max: An artist and a curator at the Torrence Art Museum in California, he presents as a convivial Brit, bouncy of demeanor, arriving a tad late, rumor has it, thanks to some footy on the telly. After a brief exchange, you say something innocuous — I really enjoyed this exhibition — and he gently stops you. Your casual use of "exhibition" suggests that you may have missed the point. The fertile variety of the art, the scrum-like muchness of it all, as well as the hey-let's-put-on-a-show style of presentation, is meant to be the very opposite of a curated, filtered, scholarly exhibition. Better phrasing: "A social gathering with art." He nods approvingly. Kick save at the net!

The MAS in MAS Vegas stands for Mutual Admiration Society, and, as explained by artist Mike Dommermuth, onetime Las Vegan, longtime Angelo, it works like this: Max and the other L.A.-based organizers invite a few artists to participate; those artists invite a few more; and so on, until critical mass is achieved. Same thing happens in whichever target city MAS has chosen. Then, the two scenes converge for one night. Later, VAST owner Shannon McMackin will chose 10 of the Las Vegas artists for a show called MAS Attack, in Torrence, in August.

Saturday represented a rather unprecedented mingling of the Vegas and L.A. art scenes, though not entirely out of keeping for VAST, which has repeatedly benefited from McMackin's connection to Los Angeles — 2013's stellar Tenth Circle exhibition being a great example among several. So it was a good exercise in a bridge-building, idea-exchange kind of way. But it also proposed a looser, event-driven way to display art, placing a premium on its social dimension without downplaying its importance. "Like First Friday," someone murmured. "In a good way," someone answered.

The art of MAS Vegas defies easy summary: on the floor, a grid of empty bullet shells (some of them kicked over as the evening wore on); a video of a sobbing woman; paintings of every imaginable description. Out back, at the BBQ station, artist (and Desert Companion designer) Brent Holmes served brisket, accompanied by a video that juxtaposed his own African-American family having a Texas cookout with Cliven Bundy's comments on "the Negro."

Two standout pieces utilized sound. Las Vegan David Sanchez Burr set up a miniature dining-room set, table and chairs, made of gypsum crystal, which would be rattled apart by noise from an adjacent speaker. Draw your own metaphors. Outside, an urgent industrial throb poured from a tiny alcove in the building's front wall. Within, artist Grant Tyler had set up a sound system to play a composition he began writing the day after Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Viewers were invited to tinker with the sound system — plink on the keyboard, twirl knobs on a sound mixer — to add permanent changes to the music. After a couple hours of this, it no longer resembled the initial composition. As the sun sets and the crowd thickens, Tyler tells you he was inspired by something Burr had once told him: "Art made by artists is boring; art made by people using the artist's ideas is interesting." And so it is.

"I loved being in the position of having no control," McMackin said afterward. "You can't and shouldn't choreograph inherent chaos." Although it was meant to be a one-night event, McMackin plans to keep a selection of the MAS Vegas works on display for a few more weeks.

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