"Will Las Vegas finally get an art museum?" This question came up in Art News last week prodded by a $150 million treasure house with philanthropist Elaine Wynn footing the bill.

History of failure

But if the past is prologue, this is not a good idea. Putting original paintings and sculptures in this Disneyland for adults has already been tried and it failed.

In 2002 another person with deep pockets, Sheldon Adelson, put not one but two museums on the Strip – the Guggenheim Hermitage and the Guggenheim Vegas – proclaiming at the opening: “Not even Bugsy Siegel would have thought of this!”

As it turned out, Adelson’s claim to fame was nothing to brag about.

Only 15 months after opening, the Guggenheim Vegas went dark. And after just seven years, the Guggenheim Hermitage closed.

The closings were demonstration lessons against putting the silent space of an art museum in America’s most raucous playground.

While it’s true that Las Vegas is the largest city in the U.S. without an art museum, it’s also true that this is not your typical American city.

Then there are the eerie parallels between Adelson and Wynn that should give her pause. They both founded Vegas resort – she the Mirage, and he the Venetian. They both entered a joint venture with established museums to fill their museums: Adelson partnered with the Guggenheim Museum as well as the Hermitage in St.

Petersburg, Russia. Wynn is partnering with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Bad bet

But Wynn is taking the bigger gamble. Adelson housed his museums at the Venetian. Closing them amounted to shutting a couple of rooms. Wynn needs to build a museum from scratch.

You have to wonder where institutional memory has gone in Vegas.

MSN quotes Heather Harmon, a rep for the museum at a city council meeting oblivious to the past: “We feel this is the missing piece of the puzzle in a long series of accomplishments we’ve made in Las Vegas, from the Smith Center, the Raiders stadium, Formula 1. The art museum is a great next step in our cultural chapter.”

There’s a good reason for not taking the next step by situating an art museum in the Entertainment Capital of the World.

Even if Vegas is a cultural wasteland needing an injection of high art, it’s not likely to take. You could see the end at the start when Adelson launched his museums.

I was on assignment to cover the opening of Guggenheim Hermitage for the Robb Report. It wasn’t just the Venetian’s glitz that dampened the museum experience; it was the surrounding fake marble statuary and fake ceiling frescoes that threatened to muddle the difference between imitation art and original art.

This was especially noticeable given the Hermitage’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionists. The quiet palettes of these early 20th-century easel paintings seemed dull in this Neon Babylon.

How, I wondered, could a fun-seeking tourist be expected to appreciate the subtleties of, say, a Monet in all the glare?

Adding to the challenge is the fact that to enter Guggenheim Hermitage, you had to pass through a 120,000-square-foot casino lit by hand-blown Italian glass chandeliers.

Wynn’s museum will stand alone. So, there’s that. But her museum will still stand in Vegas and why would anyone want to see what can readily be seen in the L.A. County Museum? At least the Guggenheim Hermitage offered work you weren’t likely to see unless you traveled to Russia.

And still Guggenheim Hermitage failed. Reasons why were plain to see, and not only because of the Venetian’s gaudiness.

The exhibit walls were rust-colored Cor-Ten steel. Between the brownish walls and the paintings in need of cleaning, the art didn’t have a chance.

What chance will L.A. County art have in Wynn’s museum? Maybe there’s hope. Isn’t Vegas known as a city of second chances?