Curator's Message, Spring 2000


LVAM on art's innovative frontier

James Mann, Ph.D.


     The distinguished New York artist Audrey Flack enjoys Las Vegas, both for the poker tournaments she plays in and for the city's extravagantly exuberant Americana, and Flack enthusiastically travels here three or four times a year.  On her last visit, I had the privilege of conversing with her for several hours, about New York, Las Vegas, and the state of American art.  I had just been in New York myself, where I saw the new 2000 Whitney Biennial Exhibition, which opened on March 23rd, as well as the Greater New York show, a similar sampling which included some of the same artists, held at P.S.1, the Museum of Modern Art's alternative space across the East River in Long Island City.
     Audrey Flack told me that most of the artists she knows don't go at all anymore to exhibitions at Madison Avenue's Whitney Museum of American Art, nor at Fifth Avenue's Guggenheim, nor even at midtown's venerable, formerly pioneering MoMA. She reports that the artists she talks to go instead to the Metropolitan, the world's single greatest art museum.  At least there artists are guaranteed seeing great art of the ages. Moreover, it is there they seem to be seeking the nutrition they need to make new art that attempts to carry our shared culture at its highest level forward into a century whose art will inevitably differ drastically, even fundamentally, from that of the century in which these artists literally spent, up to now, their entire lives.
     Such artists share this curator's conviction that  a noble century of the artistic imagination has now logically self-deconstructed in a pedestrian parade of novelty, gimmicks, and gadgets.  This art is not without intellect, but it is engendered within a decayed establishment esthetic that is not advancing the human spirit  to new thresholds by more than a few yards.  Sadly, the two New York exhibitions just mentioned demonstrate  that their institutions are not part of the solution, but part of the problem.  The artists Audrey Flack speaks of clearly have the right idea about these museums' current thought and action, which are suffering from what may be plausibly diagnosed as resembling intellectual decadence, a condition that inevitably accrues to all artistic establishments, sooner or later. 
     From the day it opened the doors of its new facility in February 1997, with an exhibition of fifteen emerging artists of art after post-modernism, the Las Vegas Art Museum has demonstrated its imaginative resolve to be a leading American institution, through its contemporary exhibitions, in the art-historical formulation of the next great age in world art, wihcih is already unfolding.  Skeptics will say an institution of such thus-far modest budget and staff cannot hope, among other goals, to carve out a definitive, epoch-making place for itself in this new century, such as New York's Museum of Modern Art did with the art of the 20th century.  Yet LVAM has both the determination and the vision essential to pursue such a spirited goal, and within its financial means already applies the intellectual rigor essential to achieving such eventual distinction and repute.  In the fine arts, Las Vegas is yet an uncut desert diamond, and LVAM an unknown quantity on the international art-museum scene.  But all that will change.