You get off the escalator, walk through the doors of the self-service garage, and there you have it: a 1.50 meter bronze sculpture representing a seated body inspired by the Greek temple of Zeus, but with a head evoking the masks of distant cultures African.
Stop, look: it’s right next to Jumanji 4D slots and Posh Burger, where there’s a $100 wagyu beef patty topped with truffles, foie gras and, of course, chicken dust. gold – I must have this gold dust.
Yes, just upstairs from the Aria Casino, looking as laden with the smell of french fries as those fries are heavy with calories, is “Oracle”, a bright and stimulating creation by renowned contemporary artist Sanford Biggers.
It is a scaled-down version of the 25-foot-tall, 15,000-pound sculpture of the same name, which was displayed at New York’s Rockefeller Center in May.
It is one of nine new additions by seven artists to the MGM Resorts International art collection, which recently exhibited at the Bellagio, Park MGM and Aria. It is a range of striking works in various mediums by distinguished contemporary artists such as Rashid Jones, Ghada Amer and Derrick Adams, whose pieces are normally confined to museums and art galleries and can cost hundreds thousands of dollars in some cases. (MGM Resorts declined to reveal the value of the new collection.)
“It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to offer these works to the public,” says Tarissa Tiberti, executive director of MGM Resorts Art & Culture, which curated the company’s latest artistic additions. “Rashid Johnson, I mean, museums have these works.”
An offer for diversity
It was a night of great drama and even higher prices.
Last October, MGM Resorts sold 11 pieces by Pablo Picasso in an exciting auction with renowned art broker Sotheby’s that brought in $109 million.
The idea: to subsequently diversify its public collection of artworks, focusing on underrepresented artists of various genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
“We identified works by women artists, artists of color, from the LGBTQIA community,” Tiberti explains. “Our properties welcome visitors from all over the world; we have a huge platform to share the importance of diversity and inclusion in everyday life.
Take Jonathan Lydon Chase, whose artwork is rooted in queer black life domesticities (Chase’s The Cook Out is at Park MGM, next to the resort lobby); or the aforementioned Biggers, whose latest sculptures combine elements of African and European culture to emphasize the former’s continued influence on the latter.
That these coins are in everyday places – behind a check-in counter in a lounge; brightening up the wall of a dining room in an Italian restaurant is key: you can welcome them without even realizing it. But they have the power to stay with you regardless.
“You want to have a piece of art that people come across and appreciate — they might not even know it’s an amazing piece of art — but they walk away thinking about it,” Tiberti says. “We have a great opportunity with the properties that we have, to be able to put art in many places, places you wouldn’t expect and you wouldn’t think of, but you can take advantage of it by walking to the pool, dining at a restaurant, checking in at the front desk.While you’re queuing, waiting to check in, and you may not realize it, you look at it and make it a contemplative experience.
Where to experience it yourself
Here’s a quick guide, with commentary on each Tiberti selection.
Rashid Johnson, a selection from his “Cosmic Slop” series
Or: A sunny passage at the level of the promenade of Aria
context: A three-dimensional mural artwork made of black soap and microcrystalline wax forming a unique and intriguing display.
“This is an important series of works for Rashid. I think for this work the material is the entry point: it is a concoction of wax mixed with West African soap which is used for the treatment of sensitive skin. It’s monochromatic, with the material that’s important in Rashid Johnson’s culture and how he chooses to use it differently than how it would be used in treating your skin. He uses it to talk about culture and content.
Derrick Adams, a selection from his “Floater” series
Or: This commissioned piece is a work in progress; it will be installed near the Park MGM swimming pool when completed.
context: This cheerful and colorful series features African Americans enjoying a swimming pool setting.
“I think the first things that draw me to the work are just the colors and the way it makes figures out of shapes. And then you dig into that, and you see those numbers, and everything has such an incredible energy. I feel like his work is just very energetic, very uplifting, but it has a very poignant context. He talks about the black experience and how to navigate – through his world, through our country. It’s something fun to watch, yet has a meaning behind it.
Tomás Esson, “Quimera” and “Anestesia”
Or: “Quimera” is located just outside the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden; find “Anestesia” near the resort’s VIP lounge.
context: These beautiful and striking abstract works in oil on linen are like tractor rays for the eyes.
“(“Quimera”) really jumps off the wall. The colors are so fabulous – really juicy colors – it draws you in. He’s very interesting. His work was about a lot of erotica and mythology before. bit more serious. His previous works were based on mythology and abstract figures or creatures, and he took that abstraction even further. It just provides an energy in the painting that draws you in and captivates you, kind of makes you think, “What’s going on in this painting? And it’s complete, pure abstraction.”
Svenja Deininger, untitled
Or: The restaurant Carbone d’Aria
context: A great radiant whirlwind of colors and shapes that are immediate, visceral and complex at the same time.
“It’s really beautiful just in the simplicity and the color, how she has the raw canvas and the blocks. The shapes she creates, I think they’re sensual. Her work is interesting; it can be quite complicated, even though it looks very simple in the shapes and color. She talks about the system of interaction: how the shapes interact with each other. And the size – it’s big, so you become enveloped in the atmosphere that she creates.
Ghada Amer, “Portrait of Elizabeth” and “Portrait of Trini” from her series “The Women I Know Part II”
Or: The Bellagio Spa and Salon check-in counter
context: These two female mixed media portraits feature messages such as “Don’t fit in the glass slipper like Cinderella did – break the glass ceiling”.
“She uses a combination of materials. There’s acrylic, so she has the paint, and then she does some embroidery on it, and it’s also layered with the words in the background. It’s the intricacy of the work that’s what’s so beautiful about these. Her practice is inherently feminist, but it only really looks at the female figure, and the paintings explore the female gaze and identity that is exchanged between artist and subject and viewer. It really is a beautiful moment.
Contact Jason Bracelin at [email protected] or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram.