Daniel Libeskind's "Crystals" at the Las Vegas City Center (bottom left) - photos by Ken Hamel/DenverArts.org

At one time, Las Vegas was known primarily for smoke filled casinos, gaudy neon buffets and Wayne Newton-esque entertainment, but that was then; the new Vegas is "CityCenter," a 21st century mélange of glass and steel smack dab in the heart of "the Strip." The project brings together world renown architectural superstars including Rafael Vinoly (Cleveland Art Museum expansion), César Pelli (Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers), David Rockwell (London's "Glass Gherkin"), Helmut Jahn (the architect for the local Auraria campus library among other significant structures worldwide) and Daniel Libeskind (of the DAM's Hamilton Building.) The starchitects' projects are chock-full of contemporary artwork from the likes of Frank Stella, Julian Schnabel, Henry Moore, Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer and Robert Rauschenberg, giving the entire complex the urban vibe of an art museum (which is incredibly ironic given that the local Las Vegas Art Museum is on temporary hiatus until the "economy turns around.")

Regardless of CityCenter's Hail Mary financing and Green-ness (or lack thereof, per Adobe Airstream's Leanne Goebel), the project is a site to behold and a must see for any fan of art and architecture passing time in Sin City. And the rank-and-file focal point is undeniably Daniel Libeskind's "Crystals" (aka the shopping mall component of the project) as only a press release can summarize: "showcasing an unparalleled array of the world’s most exclusive retailers and forever redefining the Las Vegas retail experience."

As staunch a critic of Libeskind's DAM experiment as any, I have to say I was impressed with Crystals and found Libeskind's hand much lighter in service to commerce as opposed to art. The interior spaces are open and light filled, soaring up into a variety of obtuse steeple like expanses. In spite of CityCenter's provenance on the Strip, Libeskind's exterior commands attention in a very sophisticated, one might argue understated manner, given the world of pyramids, castles, faux-Paris/NY City-scapes and shipwrecks that abound nearby.

While it's painless to stroll right into Crystals ground level from the Strip, I recommend starting at the Bellagio (an event in itself, with the magnificent Dale Chihuly glass lobby and Conservatory currently decked out for the Chinese New Year) where the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is hosting an exhibit highlighting the work of the "Artists and Architects of CityCenter," a worthwhile gallery overview of the talent crammed into CityCenter (on display until April 2010.) But visiting the Crystals via the Bellagio more importantly lets you enter from the Monorail stop that connects the Bellagio to the Crystals and drops you off at the building's top level allowing you to wind your way into the belly of the building, much like descending from the 4th floor of the DAM's Hamilton building (albeit without the dread and vertigo.) Also be sure to pick up the "CityCenter Fine Art Collection" pamphlet at the mall's information desk which features a guide to the 17 major artworks on display throughout the CityCenter complex.

Crystals is not without it's own Libeskind controversy: Torontonians have aptly pointed out that Libeskind sold them a design based on the Royal Ontario Museum's gem and mineral collection and have now found their local ROM Crystal recycled Vegas-style (David Fleischer: "Anything but Crystal Clear") while LA Times critic and Libeskind hater Christopher Hawthorne posits: "What to say, really, about an architect who has now recycled the same mournful, jagged forms that he deployed in the deeply moving Jewish Museum in Berlin and in his design for the World Trade Center site for use in a high-end shopping mall on the Las Vegas Strip?"

Click here for additional pix of the Crystals interior...

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photos by Ken Hamel/DenverArts.org


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