Steve Wynn has a passion for sharing incredible art with the people who visit his hotels. At Wynn and Encore, the art and the experience are inextricable.
Steve Wynn first shared his private art collection with the public via a gallery in Bellagio when he opened the hotel in 1998, spotlighting an impressive collection of Picassos and modern masters. He often strolled around the space with his friend Bill Acquavella, one of the top art dealers in the world. “Steve was like a rock star,” the gallerist recalls. “People would stop him and thank him for bringing art to the casino.” Hardly surprising, but few collectors would then offer to take appreciative strangers around the gallery. “He would give them a personal tour, and he knew something about every painting,” Acquavella marvels. For Wynn, that art collection wasn’t just a personal pleasure—he wanted to share his passion with everyone in Las Vegas. Wynn’s first public gallery wasn’t initially a passion project, says Acquavella. “He was always interested in bringing a new attraction to his hotel, and in the beginning it was very much a business proposition. But then he got totally involved in the art.” Over the last two decades, Wynn has continued to deepen and broaden the art on show at his hotels, whether by Vegas-based contemporary artist Tim Bavington, who translates music into vibrant color and composition, or the recently acquired Popeye statue by Jeff Koons, both on display inside the Wynn casino. A commitment to art stretches beyond the public areas, though: Rooms have top-quality reproductions of masterworks from around the world, as Wynn’s right-hand man and design czar Roger Thomas explains. “I would much rather look at a great Picasso in reproduction than some third-generation lithograph. Steve and I have always agreed—we don’t like ‘hotel art,’ something selected for budget and generic décor.” Such focus on quality has been the defining impetus of Wynn’s collecting. Acquavella recalls his first phone call with Wynn, who was mulling assembling a collection for what would eventually become the Bellagio gallery. “I said to him, ‘Well, look, Las Vegas is not known for its culture or its art, so unless you really want to put top-quality things in there, it might backfire for you,’ and he said ‘Let’s put the best we can’—and we’ve never looked back.” Wynn hasn’t focused on box-checking a list of boldfaced names.
indeed, says thomas, narrative and provenance are critical to Wynn. “he’s always been willing to challenge himself with masterworks rather than finding what’s easy.” steve Wynn has a niche, but it isn’t a particular school or time period – put simply, it’s “the best.” Wynn’s passion for art has even impacted the logistics of sotheby’s sales, according to george gordon, co-chair of the sotheby’s old Master paintings department. “he was the single reason we switched to having our london main sales in the evening—the first time he bought a picture with us, i could hardly hear him, the poor chap,” gordon says, “he had got up in the middle of the night to take a call in his bathroom, so as not to wake the household. i thought, We can’t do this, we must retime the sales so it’s more convenient for him in the United states.” sleep deprivation is one hint to Wynn’s consuming passion for art. it’s typical of him, once taken with a topic, to educate himself to senseilevel—or, as thomas puts its, “When steve decides he has an interest? he’s insatiable. it’s all-in.” When John richardson’s picasso biography was published, Wynn invited the author to dinner to discuss the artist’s work and life, within weeks. “he puts me to shame sometimes, and i’m a dealer,” laughs friend larry gagosian. “he knows more than i do.” Unlike many collectors, he doesn’t rely on a cadre of advisers to offer groupthink advice on purchases, either. “i’ve found it to be very refreshing that he has the conviction and the confidence to just say, ‘okay, i want to acquire this,’” gagosian continues, “on more than one occasion, he would come into the gallery, see a picture he liked, and buy it on the spot.” Most importantly, though, Wynn wants to share this passion, rather than ring-fence it for his private enjoyment. Within Wynn, among other pieces, guests can see a raoul Dufy tapestry, a chandelier by gustave Eiffel, two Viola Freys (one, a monumental amphora on the Wynn Esplanade), bronze sculptures by Fernando Botero, and an important limestone rendition of Eve by French modernist Joseph andrau. in fact, Wynn las Vegas has published a new booklet, Taste of the Arts, a guide to the fine works on display throughout Wynn and Encore, available at the concierge desks. Fittingly, it opens with a quote from Wynn: “You never own any of this stuff, you just have custody. and frankly that’s enough. But then they’re meant to be shared with everybody.” More than simply a matter of giving art to the public, though, Wynn also views some of his public art pieces as an important way to give guests cultural context. For instance, a quartet of important Qing Dynasty vases graces the lobby of Wynn Macau—only one other such set exists, in Buckingham palace. “if the quartet of vases is an important cultural statement for a Chinese hotel, we can say the same thing about popeye in this hotel,” Wynn says. “popeye is part of american pop culture.” Wynn’s commitment to putting art in the public domain birthed the boom in culture that las Vegas now enjoys, such as Citycenter’s massive installations by Jenny holzer and Maya lin, or the video art which festoons the lobby at Cosmopolitan. “Everybody was scampering around, trying to outdo steve, and he was amazing—he had anticipated it all,” says acquavella, “he has totally changed the cultural life of Vegas.” gagosian agrees. “steve didn’t create las Vegas, but he reinvented it—he’s the father of contemporary las Vegas and he’s brought a level of style and panache that hasn’t been equaled.” n
STEVE Wynn has a niche, BUT it isn’t a particular school or time period. put simply, it’s “the Best.”
Ceramicist Viola Frey’s Amphora III was acquired last year and is on display on the Wynn Esplanade, near Dior.
Adjacent to the Terrace Pointe Cafe at Wynn, Vegas artist Tim Bavington’s Full Fathom Five is based on the 1989 song “Elephant Stone” by the Stone Roses and the Sylvia Plath poem of the same name.