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Las Vegas Art Stroll


Visitors love the glitz of the Las Vegas Strip, with all its casinos, mega-resorts and flashing neon. But Steve Wynn added a dose of sophistication in 1998 when he opened a fine art gallery inside the Bellagio casino resort. Since then, Vegas has become a thriving arts center. Here, our short list of don’t-miss spots.

THE JUMP START>
When it opened 12 years ago, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art> (3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 877-957-9777; general admission $15) quickly became Vegas’s premier exhibition space, displaying pieces from some of the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections. The current exhibit, “Figuratively Speaking: A Survey of the Human Form,” presents works by Renoir, Degas, Keith Haring, Chuck Close and Roy Lichtenstein, on loan from the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (through January 9, 2011). Meanwhile, nine paintings and eight ceramic pieces by Picasso are on permanent display in the hotel’s two-Michelin-star restaurant, appropriately named Picasso. No idle strolling, though: Reservations are required to get through the door (702-693-7223; four-course prix fixe dinner for two, $226*).

THE CHALLENGER>
The Bellagio may have been first, but its new neighbor, the CityCenter >complex (citycenter.com), stole some of the limelight when it launched its Fine Art Collection in 2009—at a cost of some $40 million. With 15 major installations by international artists, this is Vegas’s first permanent collection of contemporary art in a public space (and one of the largest corporate collections in the world). The collection ranges from sculptures and paintings to oversized pieces custom-designed to fit the indoor and outdoor spaces of CityCenter’s walkways, hotels and residences. Look for Maya Lin’s 84-foot representation of the Colorado River—made entirely of reclaimed silver—hanging above the front desk at ARIA Hotel and Casino (3730 Las Vegas Blvd.). Among the other pieces worth seeking out: Vegas>, by Jenny Holzer, a 266-foot-high wall of LED lights and scrolling proverbs at ARIA’s north valet pickup, and Nancy Rubins’s Big Edge>, a flower-like burst of aluminum and stainless steel canoes, rowboats and kayaks lashed together and suspended above the Vdara Hotel and Spa’s main drive (2600 W. Harmon Ave.). The best part of CityCenter’s collection: You can view the works for free at any hour of the day.

DOWNTOWN DIY>
Just four miles north of the Strip, a different art culture is emerging—one that’s more intimate, offbeat and community-focused. The 18b Arts District (named after the 18-block downtown radius) is the hub, with working studios and small galleries constantly sprouting up. You can take it all in during First Friday, an art walk that draws as many as 10,000 visitors and locals on the first Friday of every month (firstfriday-lasvegas.org).

The district isn’t run by millionaires or big corporations, but by local artists taking a DIY approach to expanding the city’s cultural roots. To locate the neighborhood, look for the new 45-foot-tall paintbrushes that form a gateway across Charleston Boulevard at 4th Street and Casino Center Drive (the brushes are more evident after dark, when they emit 2,000-foot strokes of rainbow-colored lights into the sky, but visitors should come during the day when the galleries are open).

The Arts Factory>’s 18 working studios and four common galleries are home to contemporary paintings, 3D sculptures, photography and more (107 E. Charleston Blvd.; 702-383-3133). Stop for a panini and glass of wine at the on-site Bar + Bistro (702-202-6060; lunch for two, $40), where the art on the walls is curated by Marty Walsh—check out the art menu for prices. Walsh’s own gallery, Trifecta, rotates works by young and established artists and sells funky gifts like glazed glass donuts and amusing pewter sculptures (702-366-7001). Thomas Willis’s “Cremations”—a collection of burnt canvases depicting hyper-realistic modern objects—is on display until November 27. While the building remains open all week, many galleries close their doors on Sundays and Mondays.

Just four blocks away is the Southern Nevada Center for the Arts>, where a collaborative group of 29 artists (sculptors, jewelers, potters, a dance company) can be seen at work in the 18 studios. The 12,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2009, includes a 150-seat performance space that hosts community events in addition to opera, rock, jazz and fashion shows (1310 S. 3rd Street; 702-557-1754). You’ll find a whole new side of Vegas in this less-visited part of town.

*Meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.


NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.>