When you ask people why they moved to Las Vegas, or are just here to spend time, you get a variety of answers.
Cheaper housing. The dry desert climate. The 24-hour nature of the city. The big shows on the Strip.
It’s rare to hear someone say they came here because of the art. But Dutch-born artist Hans Van de Bovenkamp did. He sees Las Vegas an up-and-coming place for the arts.
Hans has about 100 sculptures in public spaces around the nation. Many were commissioned by corporations or government entities. And his art has been shown in galleries throughout the world.
Nevada Public Radio producer Fred Wasser met Van de Bovenkamp to ask him the question: Why Las Vegas and why now?
So, Fred, what is this artist, who has a 60-year-career in the arts, doing here?
Wasser: Hans is testing the artistic waters in Las Vegas at a time when he feels art is coming into its own here. He’s especially interested in art that’s not confined to a museum or art gallery. So-called public art. Maybe a piece or two of his art could find a home here.
When I asked if I could meet him he said yes, and he suggested City Center. City Center is massive - a blend of hotels, high-end stores, offices, and park-like public spaces. It’s on the Strip but recessed back a bit from Las Vegas Boulevard.
And it’s a place where world-class art-work is on display. Work by Claes Oldenburg, Jenny Holzer, Julian Schnabel. A Maya Lin sculpture, “Silver River” is suspended over the Aria Hotel’s reservations desk.
Outside, wedged between the Aria and an upscale shopping mall is a Henry Moore sculpture, “Reclining Connected Forms.” Look up from the sculpture and you see the odd abstract angles and shapes on the hotel facade. Van de Bovenkamp sees in Las Vegas a heady mix of chaos and serenity, commerce and art.
Hans: What I’m beginning to realize, art is also show biz. I’ve been here a few times. Ten, twenty years ago. And in the last six years I’ve been coming here a few times a year. And, I love the energy in this town. I’m a little older now, but I like young energy and, you know, I’m gambling by making a sculpture. So, I don’t gamble here because money is too precious. But I gamble by making art. Is it liked? Or is it not interesting? So, the energy here and the architecture is very beautiful but provocative. These enormous shapes against each other. The different between glass and steel. Stainless steel and polished concrete. This looks like one big party.
(Wasser) What’s interesting, too, we’re looking at the Maya Lin. We’re outside. There’s glass. We see a reflection of ourselves. We see a reflection of the Henry Moore sculpture.
[Han] It’s amazing.
(Wasser) There’s a lot going on here.
[Hans] And the flowers.
(Wasser) And water.
[Hans] And water.
(Hans) What is so beautiful is to have these incredible bold shapes here, and to have this beautiful Henry Moore. The scale is perfect. It’s not too small, not too big. It’s so powerful. It is in harmony with the rest of these enormous architectural shapes.
Fred, Tell us a little bit about Von de Bovenkamp’s background.
Wasser: After studying architecture in college, Hans began his professional life as an artist in the 1960s on the lower east side of Manhattan. When he had money, he did sculpture. To make money, Hans created all sorts of metal objects - lamps, candelabras, trivets, items for the gift industry. He created window-displays for some big-name stores, Georg Jensen, Hammacher Schlemmer, Tiffany & Company. After ten years in Manhattan - a new chapter in his life. He had driven to Long Island to deliver a commission.
Hans: One day – somebody bought some candelabras from me - and I had to deliver them in East Hampton and I drove to East Hampton and made a wrong turn. When I came to East Hampton, I ended up in the estates section. And I said, My God, I’ve never seen houses this size.
Wasser: Hans thought: there just might be a market for his art here. He moved to Long Island, opened a studio. Became friends with some influential people including his neighbor-for-a-time – legendary abstract expressionist, Willem de Kooning. Hans painted, he created sculpture. A career with longevity was born. Joe, as you said early -- six decades worth of work…and counting.
Hans’s work isn’t confined to sculpture. He’s also a painter.
Wasser: Yes – he does abstract paintings, mostly in acrylics – paintings with titles such as “Cosmic Love” “Disco Nights” and “Boogie Woogie Slalom.” They’re whimsical and fun. His main work is sculpture. He creates portals or gateways large enough to drive a car through. His free-standing pieces range from six inches in height up to 40 feet. Most are made of stainless steel or bronze. They look like blocks of metal in elongated and curving shapes. Sturdy-looking. And welcoming. His work is contemporary and abstract in form. For instance, “Sagg Portal,” made of Marine Stainless Steel. It might be yellow as the sun is rising. And red as the sun sets. It’s made of paper-thin metal. But by putting in complex curves and folds, he says, the surface is strengthened.
I mentioned his art in public spaces all around the United States and in galleries. Where else?
Wasser: His art is also in private collections, his studios, and at his homes in Sagaponack, New York and Las Vegas. None of his work is on public display in Nevada – yet. Las Vegas seems to be his next artistic frontier. And he’d like to play a role in bringing more of what he calls “artistic spirit” to Las Vegas.
Hans: Every time I come here I see new buildings going up, and more interesting. But there’s a little bit of a lack of art. They have a lot of signs with flashing lights. And there’s more and more art. I’m not putting it down. But I’m used to Washington, DC or to Paris or Amsterdam. And there’s art on every second corner. I feel that with all the things that they have here, art is very important too. Maybe have an emphasis on culture, which deals with spirit, maybe a religion, while money comes and goes. It doesn’t have permanence. So, Las Vegas needs a different culture rather than the shows, which are the best in the world, and the casinos which are great – but also an artistic culture.
It sounds like Von de Bovenkamp has high hopes for the artistic life of Las Vegas.
Wasser: I don’t think that Hans is out to remake our town. I think he appreciates its quirkiness and, let’s say, special qualities. And he loves the beauty of the desert that surrounds us. He’s grown attached to the city. Enthusiastic about the city. He envisions a role he can play here in the arts. And as far as the nitty-gritty work of an artist -- these days, Hans still does sculpture and he’s painting more and more.
[Hans] I paint. And painting has come as I’m aging. Sculpture is very physically taxing.
[Wasser] It’s construction work.
[Hans] It’s construction work. When people say, What do you do? And I talk to workmen, I say I’m kind of a glorified welder. But there’s a craft. Even if you don’t like my sculpture at least you have to look at the craft and hopefully admire the craft because it’s very time-consuming. And we cannot say we worked on it so many hours times fifty or one-hundred dollars an hour. There’s the price. The price is very arbitrary. It could be the emperor’s clothes. That Henry Moore out there probably costs a few million. While another artist sells their sculpture for 850 dollars has nobody interested. You know, it is a little bit of a mystical expression.
Wasser: In just a few days, Hans will be 80-years old. An artist has many unrealized projects, he says. For him, perhaps 20 pages of things he’s done. Perhaps 50 pages of things he’d like to do. He jokes that he’s well-known for his unrealized projects. But - Joe— really, Hans has done a lot. He wants to continue making his way down his list – creating and selling more art. And, Hans sees Las Vegas as a good place for all of that.
Hans Van de Bovenkamp, Sculptor
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