Finding Art & Beauty In an Unexpected Place
It was late June and the summer doldrums had me bored and restless. My freelance work had slowed and if I hadn’t been so damn hot, I would have been bouncing off the walls.
“Why don’t we go to Vegas?” my husband proposed after work one day.
“Vegas? What the hell, Mike? Can’t you come up with something slightly more inventive?” The thing is, when I get hot, I get grumpy. The thought of going someplace decidedly hotter than Portland was not appealing.
From the first day of our married life, Mike and I had been working hard to see the most beautiful parts of the world. We’d been to Singapore, Cambodia, France, Belgium, Russia…I could go on and on. We’d enjoyed home cooked meals with local families, hiked through humid jungles and thoroughly explored ancient temples. We made a point to avoid the tourist traps like the plague.
And here he was asking me if I wanted to go to Vegas.
“Come on!” he said, “We’re young. We’re supposed to be spontaneous and stupid. Let’s just pack a suitcase and hop the next flight to Vegas.”
I stared at him pointedly.
“And do what? Stand in front of the fountains at the Bellagio while flashing a peace sign at the camera?”
“Quit being such a travel snob!” he snapped at me. “Let go and do something touristy for once in your life.”
I thought about it for a while. Had I become a travel snob? I remember having scoffed once at a friend for eating at a McDonald’s in Japan, but she had countered that it was an experience to remember. I didn’t want to be one of those high and mighty people that thought my sophisticated view of the world made me better than everyone else.
And I was insanely bored.
I told Mike to make the reservations and I began to pack.
Despite my original snark, we ended up staying at the Bellagio — and the fountains really are lovely.While checking in, I was overtaken by the beauty of Dale Chihuly’s “Fiori di Como”, a gorgeous glass chandelier piece set into the lobby ceiling.
“They have a lot of gorgeous art spread throughout the hotel and casino,” my husband pointed out.
“They even have a gallery of fine art. Wanna check it out?”
I nodded enthusiastically. If there’s one thing I never turn down, it’s a trip to any kind of museum.
As we approached the gallery, my enthusiasm tripled. We’d managed to time our first trip to Vegas during the Bellagio’s “Warhol Out West” exhibit.
We happily paid the $16 entrance fee and put on our headphones to listen to the audio tour as we wandered through the small exhibit. There were 56 pieces in the gallery, including some of his most iconic works — think Campbell’s Soup and Liz Taylor — as well as some rarely seen pieces of the “Cowboys and Indians” series.
We left the gallery high on art appreciation and jonesing for more. After a quick internet search, we decided our next stop would be the Venetian Hotel & Casino, which was featuring an exhibition of National Geographic’s 50 greatest photographs.
To say I was moved might be a slight understatement. Seeing National Geographic’s most recognizable and celebrated photographs and hearing the story behind them was incredibly poignant.
While viewing these incredible photos, I began to wonder what pieces of contemporary photography would be remembered in years to come. I was at a loss.
Are future generations really going to be fascinated by photos documenting Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy or would they rather see scenes of war, despair, hope and beauty that really speak of what the world was like in the early 21st century?
Our trip through the Imagine Exhibitions Gallery ended and we flew off into the night to spend time doing the touristy things Mike had requested. While waiting in a line for the Big Apple coaster at the New York New York, a nice woman from Idaho suggested we make time for a trip to the Neon Museum the next morning.
“If you’re into art, it’ll be right up your alley!” the cheerful brunette exclaimed.
I couldn’t resist.
The Neon Museum is both extraordinarily artistic and quintessentially Vegas. Walking through the boneyard in the blistering sun was uncomfortable as there was little shade to be found, but I was so captivated by the timeworn signage that I didn’t care if I burnt to a crisp.
As if peeling back the layers of Las Vegas’s tumultuous past through the exploration of antique signs wasn’t enough, we were also treated to the history of neon sign making. Mike was so blown away by the haunting beauty of the boneyard, he asked me if we could move to Vegas.
I told him there was no way in hell.
We left for home the next morning, and as the gentle hum of the airplane lulled me into a state of unconsciousness, I realized I had thoroughly enjoyed our trip. In the face of my prejudices against the tourist mecca that is Las Vegas, I found beauty in art. More importantly, by letting go of my worldly views and locavore attitude, I found the fun loving girl I used to be.
It was nice to see her again.