PRINT January 2001


the Guggenheim Las Vegas

WHILE THE LAS VEGAS STRIP is home to a facsimile of Manhattan, a faux Paris, and an ersatz Venice, the avenue’s newest addition, believe it or not, will be a real museum: the latest branch of the Solomon R. Guggenheim. Even stranger, in a second venture at the same site, the Guggenheim is partnering with the venerable State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to bring the likes of Cézanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky to the land of Wayne Newton, drive-through wedding chapels, and Elvis impersonators. “Although I could have scarcely imagined working in Las Vegas even one year ago—my first visit to the city took place only at the beginning of this year-the fascination of the place is undeniable,” explains Thomas Krens, the Guggenheim’s director, who cites Robert Venturi’s classic architectural panegyric Learning from Las Vegas as partial inspiration for the locale.

The Hermitage-Guggenheim Museum (in an effort to keep the partnership fair and square, half the signs there read “Guggenheim-Hermitage”) is set to open this spring inside the 3,000-room Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino. The space is designed by none other than Rem Koolhaas, the Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect and Harvard professor who famously espouses the breaking down of barriers between high and low culture. (Other recent commissions include a concert hall in Portugal and Prada boutiques in San Francisco, New York, and Beverly Hills.) Koolhaas’s design for the museum’s intimate exhibition spaces demands a mere 7,660 square feet from the Venetian. Walls of Cor-Ten steel—Richard Serra’s medium of choice—provide a witty reference to both a postindustrialist aesthetic and the rich hues of the Hermitage’s home galleries. The museum will open with “Masterpieces from the Hermitage and Guggenheim Collections,” which promises forty works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Monet, Pissarro, Chagall, Modigliani, and Picabia, among others. One hopes that visitors to the land of illusion will understand that these babies are the real thing.

This summer, the second Koolhaas designed space will open in the Venetian’s complex: The Guggenheim Las Vegas, a 63,700-square-foot behemoth reminiscent of an airplane hangar, will feature open, airy galleries, seventy-foot ceilings, and a giant, six-story door wide enough to accommodate an eighteen-wheeler. Details include a “media wall” on which images will be projected and vast mechanical ceiling panels that, rumor has it, may be imprinted with reproductions of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes. Visitors might have trouble finding the Guggenheim Las Vegas, though: Gallerygoers must walk through the Venetian’s lobby and past the casino, perhaps dropping a few coins along the way. When they finally arrive, there’s a fair chance they’ll mistake the museum for the nearby Harley-Davidson Cafe, at least at the beginning. The inaugural exhibition is the infamous “Art of the Motorcycle”—in a proper setting at last.