Artists Andy Wallace and Denise A. King are giving me a crash course in the Las Vegas "look," which sounds a lot like a recipe for some very kinky porn or the blueprint for a souped-up funny car.
"A lot of industrial materials: slip casting, automotive paints, rubbers, silicone, airbrushed," says King -- who works the raven-in-a-bottle Betty Page-tressed, rockabilly look.
Other visions of Vegas spring to mind. Theme park. Vice pit. Strobe-lit womb to showbiz excess a la Wayne Newton and Elvis Presley. Temple of tackiness. America in a nutshell.
Vegas is many things to many people.
But conceptual art scene?
King and Wallace think so, and they've imported evidence to bolster their case.
The pair met as graduate students at the University of Nevada and now live in Atlanta. They will offer a Las Vegas primer on the city's art scene Sept. 20 when they act as cultural emissaries for a mini-contingent of artists from the Big Sleazy.
Vegas Baby! marks the inauguration of a new art space, Elevation Gallery, in an exhibition of 21 University of Nevada art school grads who offer a tantalizing intro to the synthetic-embracing, delirious color and outre content of the Vegas Look.
The 5,200-foot space in the Candler-Smith warehouse district is the brainchild of Wallace and King and their entrepreneurial sugar daddy -- local businessman and art lover Rusty Reddish, who invited the two artists to curate the space he uses as a launching pad for his faux-finishing business.
In this cavernous gallery honeycombed with various levels and rooms, Vegas Baby! will feature consummately Vegas work that blends surface intoxication with lowbrow borrowings and a goodly amount of humor.
Art from Las Vegas looks kind of like what you might expect art from Vegas to look like: crazy about the artificial, understated about nothing, maxed out of its gourd on stimuli. Colors tend to mimic the eye-blistering tones of neon, beach shop fashion, muscle cars and all shades of the fake, the gaudy and the pimped out.
Take artist Curtis Fairman, for instance, who makes slick minimalist sculpture out of common objects you can find at any Wal-Mart -- stove guards, fishing lures, plastic strainers and drinking glasses. Kathy Garlock creates horrifically funny little tchotchke trophies that look like the kitschy mutations that might result if Jeff Koons got a hold of your granny's dust catchers. Other highlights of Vegas Baby! will include Shawn Hummel's large abstracted photographs of custom cars, Jack Hallberg's glow-in-the-dark paintings and King's salute to her Southern upbringing in ceramic sculptures of the kind of curvaceous babes commemorated on trucker mud flaps.
The scene at the transitional gallery-to-be testifies to the mix of fun and vice Wallace and King have in store for the Vegas Baby! opening party.
The large conference table where the artists and Reddish sit to detail their plans looks like the aftermath of a press conference with the Hell's Angels. There are a couple of packs of Marlboros, some cheap lighters, poker chips, King's gargantuan Mega-Cup ornamented with smiling race car drivers and an unexplained kitchen knife in the center of the table. In the background, two shirtless men make occasional deafening noise with drills and sanders. With the bare skin and accumulated vice, already things feel a little Vegas. Reddish indicates an enormous contraption in the center of the gallery that looks like a very low circular bar.
In fact, it is a "conversation pit" of sorts where party-goers at the Vegas Baby! opening will be able to sit while models dressed in edible lingerie exhibit their wares on the catwalk above. In addition to the fashion show of frilly food, there will be a blackjack tournament.
Wallace and King are intent on injecting an element of camp into an art scene not necessarily known for lighthearted good times. But a quick appraisal of the art itself speaks volumes of the premium Vegas artists put on frisky, eye-catching form and the kitschy conceptual flava that marks the work.
That Special Vegas Sumpin' is due, in no small part, to the influence of UNV's resident guru, art critic Dave Hickey, who is about as close to a critical superstar as the art world has.
Wallace and King learned about the very Vegas imperative of beauty as seductive eye-quencher under Hickey who, Denise says, passed that lesson on to his students.
"He doesn't care why you made it, just make something pretty," he would say. "Make me something cool."
And in these often self-absorbed, politically correct times, when the world weighs heavily on most people's shoulders, the idea of art founded on pleasure sounds like a welcome relief. Vegas Baby! is just the first in what Wallace and King hope will be a series of ongoing exhibitions of conceptual work at Elevation Gallery.
Vegas Baby! will have a grand opening reception Sept. 20 from 7 p.m.-midnight featuring a fashion show by Silvia Medrano and a blackjack art tournament. The exhibition continues through Nov. 22 at Elevation Gallery, 710 Murphy Ave., Suite A-6. Tues.-Sat. noon-4 p.m. 404-756-7608. elevationgallery.com.
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