SERIOUS ART MADE ITS DEBUT IN GLITTERY LAS VEGAS with the opening of the Bellagio Collection, Steve Wynn's museum-in-a-casino. (Wynn's art treasures were recently sold, but the space is now open to temporary exhibitions such as the current one showcasing Steve Martin's considerable collection). Now the Venetian is upping the ante—for Vegas and the entire hotel industry—with its lofty plans for outposts of the Guggenheim and St. Petersburg's venerable Hermitage Museum. Venetian President Rob Goldstein says the resort didn't have the budget to build a significant art collection from scratch. "We thought a museum affiliation would be better. So we shopped around and settled on [Guggenheim director] Tom Krens, who's proven he's willing to be a renegade," he says. Krens has also proven he's not afraid to bring commerce to the museum.
Goldstein and Krens are building two freestanding structures on the Venetian property, both designed by Rem Koolhaas. (Which begs the question: How much less does a splashy new building cost than a permanent art collection?) The Guggenheim Las Vegas will be a vast, 64,000-square-foot exhibition space—not a proper museum, since there's no permanent collection—with soaring 70-foot ceilings. The famously ambitious Krens hopes it will be one of the most flexible and technologically advanced art spaces in the country. The second building, housing exhibitions by the joint-venture Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum, will be a smaller affair, at just 8,000 square feet. The inaugural show in the bigger space is another viewing of the celebrated "Art of the Motorcycle," installed by Frank Gehry.
The Guggenheim marketing machine, which has already proven its success in drawing crowds and revenue, may have hit on the winning formula for making art part of the hotel experience: Build a dedicated space and fill it with work assembled by a major institution. But there are problems there, too. What happens, for instance, when globe-trotting art fans check into the Venetian and discover they've already seen the show?(When I visited Bilbao, the same Rauschenberg retrospective I'd seen in New York was there, as was Richard Serra's undeniably powerful Torqued Ellipses, which I was experiencing for the third time in as many cities.) The Guggenheim project really serves to underscore the difficulties in taking art from one marketplace and putting it in another. Art is expensive to buy, install, and insure; there's no guarantee of a long shelf life. Hotel owners are betting that culture mavens will be more likely to spend the night where there's real art on the walls. But if they're wrong, they could end up with very expensive equivalents of the vibrating bed.
Hotel Arts 19—21 Carrer de la Marina, Barcelona; 800/241-3333 or 34-93/221-1000, fax 34-93/221-1070; doubles from $280.
Art'otel Budapest 16—19 Bem Rakpart, Budapest; 36-1/487-9487, fax 36-1/487-9488; doubles from $180.
Chambers 15 W. 56th St., New York; 212/974-5656, fax 212/204-7777; doubles from $425.
The Standard 8300 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 323/650-9090, fax 323/650-2820; doubles from $135.
Park Hyatt 800 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago; 800/233-1234 or 312/335-1234, fax 312/239-4000; doubles from $410.
Embassy Suites 102 North End Ave., New York; 800/362-2779 or 212/945-0100, fax 212/945-3012; doubles from $209.
Hilton Times Square 234 W. 42nd St., New York: 212/840-8222, fax 212/840-5516; doubles from $209.
The Venetian 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; 877/857-1861 or 702/414-1000, fax 702/414-1100; doubles from $299.