A real estate developer wants to put an art museum in downtown Las Vegas and it’s hard to understand why he thinks that’s a good idea. If history means anything, it’s a terrible Idea. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Poju Zabludowicz proposes a building to house his 1,000-plus item collection of contemporary art along with a nightclub and restaurant in the Fremont Entertainment District. Doesn’t he remember that a similar venture was tried in the city more than a dozen years ago and it flopped? I’m thinking of the Guggenheim Vegas, a satellite of the New York museum set right next to a casino in the Venetian Hotel.

(More about that in a moment).

Are we having fun yet?

Terry Murphy, who heads an investment company in Vegas and also represents Zabludowicz’s development company, told the press that the museum idea would “bolster Las Vegas’s position in the international art community.” What position is that? In his next sentence, Murphy seems to answer that question by denying there is any such position, saying that a treasure house of contemporary art would serve the city’s aim of “reversing its image as acultural wasteland.” If the renowned Guggenheim Museum failed in Sin City, what makes a Real Estate Developer think he’s got a shot at – how did Murphy put it - bolster the city’s rep in the art world?

Bugsy Siegel, eat your heart out

And the Guggenheim in Vegas with not one but two exhibit halls – Guggenheim Vegas and Guggenheim Hermitage (from Russia’s Hermitage collection) - had a big to-do for its debut with celebrity guests from the museum world, Hollywood and the media. Running the show was Sheldon Adelson, who funded the project for $30 million, exclaiming with supreme confidence, “Not even Bugsy Siegel would have thought of this!”


Does the Guggenheim failure in Vegas doom Zabludowicz’s proposal?

The short answer is yes. Any fine art museum would. The city may be known as the “Capitol of Second Chances,” but it pays tribute to populism, not painting. Besides the glitter and glitz, there are the mock-ups of famous places, the fake marble pillars, fake marble statues, and fake gold leaf-framed frescoes. How can a fun-seeking public vacationing in the “Entertainment Capitol of the World” be expected to appreciate original and often difficult-to- understand contemporary art when surrounded by the glistening make-believe of Neon Babylon?

The last word

All that said, not even the mayor of the city thinks a venue for a fine art collection is workable. As far back as 2009, he told the Las Vegas Sun that he didn’t support the idea and said it repeatedly, like this: “I don’t see a museum for art as necessary downtown...There’s also a round-trip plane to Los Angeles,” alluding to all the notable treasure houses there. “It’s not necessary to have an art museum.”