For in architecture, as in painting, as in literature, the monumental and the serious have for some time been losing out to the unpretentious and the self-aware—and on both counts Las Vegas enjoys a half-century head start on most of the rest of America. In his gleefully provocative essay, “A Home in the Neon” (1997), the great art critic (and long time Vegas resident) Dave Hickey makes the case for his city as the most refreshingly honest (!) place on Earth—and the birthplace of “the only indigenous visual culture on the North American continent, a town bereft of dead white walls, ficus plants, and Barcelona chairs—where there is everything to see and not a single pretentious object demanding to be scrutinized.”
Creative people from around the world continue to visit Vegas and revel in, or recoil from, its wild permissiveness, translating that permissiveness into books, films, drawings, paintings, songs. Meanwhile, Vegas just keeps being itself, indifferent to what anybody thinks.
Can it go on like this forever? Las Vegas has only been around for about hundred years; in that time its population has continued to expand, and for the last ten years it’s been more or less recession-proof. And yet its existence always feels precarious, dependent as it is upon a steady supply of gamblers willing to travel to the middle of nowhere and a steady supply of water brought in from God knows where. It’s hard to look at ’s
public sculpture Big Edge
(2009), composed of more than two hundred canoes, rowboats, surfboards, and kayaks smack-dab in the middle of Vegas’s CityCenter, without snorting at the sheer, perverse uselessness of the thing—the whimsy, or stupidity, or black humor, that would lead someone to pile boats in a city on the verge of a major drought
. Likewise for ’s
2,000-pound stainless steel sculpture of Popeye, the world’s most famous sailorman, which for a brief time decorated the executive offices of the Wynn Las Vegas.