Let Inspiration Strike on an Arts-Filled Weekend in Las VegasBy Zoneil Maharaj
Las Vegas is often dismissed as a hedonistic, neon playground with an excess of guilty pleasures. But for every vice is an awe-inspiring cultural experience. Forget what you think you know about Sin City.
This weekend, opt for getting lost in a supermarket, strolling through a neon graveyard, stepping inside a secret art installation by a world-renowned artist, and so much more.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
Let’s start on the famous Las Vegas Strip. The Bellagio fountains are an inevitable stop for all visitors, but the real show is inside at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden and Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art.
The 14,000-square-foot conservatory transforms into a lush oasis every season with thousands of colorful flowers and floral installations. During the holidays, it becomes a winter wonderland with a giant, 42-foot decorated tree.
The Gallery of Fine Art is equally impressive. There’s always a famous artist’s work on view, with past exhibits highlighting works from Picasso, Andy Warhol and Yayoi Kusama, among others.
Still, there are lots of secrets in Las Vegas, like this one: On the fourth floor of the Louis Vuitton CityCenter store is a free hidden installation by renowned contemporary artist James Turrell.
Titled “Akhob” (“pure water” in ancient Egyptian), the work features two round chambers that slowly pulse with changing colors and lights during a 24-minute cycle. It’s designed to make you lose your sense of depth perception, as if you’re in infinite space. Though it’s free to enter, you’ll have to make reservations several months in advance by calling 702-730-3150. Maybe it’s not such a secret after all.
No visit is complete without a show. Absinthe, like its alcoholic namesake, will leave you in a daze with its raucous and raunchy blend of circus, burlesque and vaudeville. The silly and seductive adults-only variety show takes place in a carnival tent and features a rotating cast of trapeze artists, jugglers, roller skaters, acrobats and slapstick comedians performing on a circular stage in the center. You might even become part of the action.
You’ve played tourist. Now it’s time to do Vegas like a local. Head downtown where the rapidly growing Arts District and booming Fremont East entertainment district await.
Walk down Fremont Street and you’ll find murals by acclaimed street artists from all over the world, such as Obey founder Shepard Fairey, England’s D*Face, France’s Fafi and Spain’s Okuda San Miguel, among others. The large-scale works are part of the annual Life is Beautiful Music & Art Festival program, which brings international flair to this desert city’s walls.
Keep walking along Fremont and you’ll hit Fergusons Downtown, an old hotel converted into a bohemian retail complex. It’s anchored by Mike Ross’ Big Rig Jig, a giant S-shaped sculpture made of two twisted diesel tanker trucks.
Elsewhere in the complex is photographer Myron Hensel’s studio — where you can have an 1800s-style tintype portrait taken — and Hey Maker Co.’s boutique featuring works from local artists, among other unique boutiques.
If you’re a bookworm, duck into the nearby The Writers Block. One of the few independent bookstores in Las Vegas, Writers Block hosts readings from famous authors, youth programs and book clubs, as well as a quirky artificial bird sanctuary.
Of course, you can’t talk about Las Vegas art without a visit to the Arts District. There’s The Arts Factory, an old warehouse converted into a labyrinth of art studios, and the adjacent Art Square, home to the Vegas Theatre Company, art galleries, event spaces and bars. Both make up the footprint of the monthly First Friday art walk and street festival.
A walk down Main Street will uncover even more murals, galleries, restaurants, breweries and shops. As you make your rounds, save time for a show at Majestic Repertory Theatre. The independent venue stages inventive productions, such as “Measure for Measure: The Immersive Experience,” a retelling of the Shakespeare classic set during the 1970s in the fictional yet familiar town of Lost Wages.
For bigger productions visit the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. With a gorgeous design inspired by the Hoover Dam’s art deco architecture, it’s hosted national productions such as “Hamilton” and “The Book of Mormon,” along with performances from musical icons like John Legend and Wynton Marsalis.
Squeeze in one last stop to marvel at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health’s stunning architecture. Designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, the building swoops and curves as if melting from the desert heat.
Two days down and there’s still so much more to do. One of the newest Las Vegas attractions is the sprawling Area15.
This trippy, interactive playground is home to various activities and experiences, from Museum Fiasco’s immersive audiovisual sensation that will make you feel like you’re inside of microchip to the psychedelic funhouse of Wink World. Its crown jewel is Santa Fe art collective Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart, a quirky, 52,000-square-foot supermarket with hidden portals that lead to magical, mind-bending realms.
To truly appreciate Las Vegas you have to learn its past. The Neon Museum collects, preserves and exhibits iconic signs from long-gone casinos and businesses. Much of its collection is on display in the outdoor Neon Boneyard. The museum’s “Brilliant!” show brings some of that vintage signage to life through projection mapping with animation and thunderous sound.
Of course, Las Vegas history wasn’t always glamorous. Inside The Mob Museum you’ll immerse yourself in the city’s seedy roots, along with studies on organized crime today. Its three main floors contain dozens of exhibits, including a firearm training simulator and 300 bricks from the site of the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929. In its basement lies a hidden speakeasy that functions as both a bar and a Prohibition exhibit.
Admire Southern Nevada’s homegrown artworks at The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. Housed on the UNLV campus and part of its College of Fine Arts, the Barrick is Las Vegas’ only official art museum, a fact it doesn’t take lightly. It strives to showcase the region’s rich, diverse contemporary art with an emphasis on artists from communities that are often left out of American art museums.
Last but not least is the Instagram-worthy spectacle that is Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone’s “Seven Magic Mountains.” Located 10 miles south of Las Vegas, the installation is composed of seven stacks of colorful boulders that stretch more than 30 feet high, adding a burst of vibrance against the desert hues. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were spotted there once, so you should probably visit, too.