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From gambling to galleries in Vegas

Email|Print| Text size + By Christina Tree and William A. Davis
Globe Correspondents / November 30, 2005

LAS VEGAS -- This is a city better known for high rollers than high art, but in the new Las Vegas of super deluxe megahotels, five-star restaurants, upscale shopping, and entertainment extravaganzas, art also has become an added attraction.

Faux structures abound here -- an Egyptian pyramid, the Eiffel Tower -- but the art is the real thing and often world class.

Bellagio, one of the city's poshest hotels, has its own gallery and is currently exhibiting ''The Impressionist Landscape: From Corot to Van Gogh," a show of paintings on loan from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. The Guggenheim Museum has a Las Vegas branch in the Venetian Hotel displaying ''Treasures From the Kremlin Museum," on loan from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, which includes beautiful objects made for Russian royalty in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Wynn, the newest and most extravagant of the city's hotels (it opened in May with 2,700 rooms and cost $2.7 billion), has a permanent gallery with paintings from the personal collection of Steve Wynn and his wife, Elaine.

Wynn, a developer who has lived here almost 40 years, is credited with having ushered in the city's new era of resort opulence in 1989 when he opened the Mirage Hotel. At $639 million, it was then the most expensive and over-the-top as well as the largest hotel ever built here. Although he has since sold both properties, Wynn later developed the elegant Bellagio, including the art gallery -- thought to be the first gaming resort in the world to have such an amenity -- to display his collection.

On view until Jan. 8, ''The Impressionist Landscape" includes 34 paintings from the MFA's collection, a number of which are not usually on view in Boston. ''Treasures From the Kremlin Museum" powerfully conveys a sense of the almost barbaric splendor of the Russian Court. On exhibit until Jan. 15, it is an offshoot of ''Russia! The Majesty of the Tsars," now at the Guggenheim in New York.

The Wynn Collection, covering 400 years of art history, is displayed in a small, well-guarded gallery. (This is Las Vegas, so you do have to go by the casino to get there.) There are usually about 15 paintings on exhibit, though from time to time some are sold and others are added.

Always on view are the ones most prized by Wynn. These include a Rembrandt self-portrait; one of 36 paintings by Vermeer in existence; ''Le Rêve," a 1930s portrait by Picasso of his mistress Marie-Thérèse; and a triptych portrait of Wynn by Andy Warhol that occupies an entire wall.

Wynn narrates the gallery's audio tour. He starts by telling the unusual story of the Rembrandt, done when the artist was 28, which had been painted over and was not authenticated until three years ago after a six-year cleaning revealed the artist's signature.

As for the triptych, Wynn says he met Warhol in 1983 in Atlantic City and they became friends. Warhol invited him to lunch at his Manhattan studio, ''a tuna fish sandwich on a plywood table," recounts Wynn, and took three Polaroids. Enlarging one, he projected it onto three canvases and painted versions with red, pale blue, and brown backgrounds. He later gave them to Wynn as a gift.

Las Vegas has its own indigenous art form: neon. The invention of neon in 1932 coincided with the legalization of gambling here, and the two took off together. Some of the biggest and gaudiest of the classic neon signs are in the so-called Neon Museum: nine restored neon signs spaced out along five blocks of Fremont Street. The heart of the original casino district before the action moved to Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip), Fremont Street was converted into a pedestrian mall 10 years ago.

Las Vegas also has a developing arts district in the area between the Strip and downtown. Many of the art galleries keep irregular hours or are open only by appointment. However, on the first Friday of each month galleries and artist studios hold open houses from 6 to 9 p.m. Most of the galleries are on East Charleston Boulevard, or streets just south of it, with the greatest concentration, some 20 galleries and studios, in the Arts Factory at 101-109 East Charleston.

Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art
Bellagio

3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South

702-693-7871

Daily 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Adults $15.

Guggenheim Hermitage Museum
The Venetian

3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South

702-414-2440

Daily 9:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.Adults $19.50.

The Wynn Collection
Wynn Las Vegas

3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South

702-770-3590

Sunday-Thursday 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday till midnight. Adults $6.

The Neon Museum

The Fremont Experience

Fremont Street

Open 24 hours. Free.

The Arts Factory
101-109 East Charleston Blvd.

702-676-1111

Gallery and studio open house 6-9 p.m. first Friday of each month.

Christina Tree and WilliamA. Davis are freelance writers in Cambridge.

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