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.

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