When a Life Is Beautiful mural was whitewashed off the side of The Beat in late 2013, people noticed and questions were asked. It also showed how the city’s culture is curated by gambler's superstition. The mural by Interesni Kazki was figurative and the one of the better pieces that came out of LIB. A western gambling figure -- that played off the iconography of Vegas Vic -- watched over hands buried in the sand. The image was a poke to the town’s image and visible from the offices of El Cortez.
In other words, it was bad luck. Someone in that office wanted the mural down, so down it went. It didn't give a positive image was the repeated reason. The mural was treated like an ad, a form of alternative advertising that branded image through the use of contemporary street aesthetic, and discarded.
The space is still blank, and Jennifer Cornthwaite, downtown cultural leader and co-owner of The Beat, was left to handle the questions asking why it was taken down. In December, Jennifer and I were on Joe Downtown's radio show in different time slots. During her interview segment, she talked about asking a muralist what was the protocol for works. The artist told her murals are temporary. Listening in, I suspected she citing a street artist and a few weeks later she confirmed to me that was true.
Her source was right in one way. The murals seen around Fremont Street come from a style that has an expectation the installation is brief (or in the case of The Life Cube, go down in flames.)
But Las Vegas also has the more traditional form of mural; site-specific work that takes public memory as context and stay up with long-term residency in mind. The City of Las Vegas sponsored a Centennial Mural program in 2005 to mark the 100th birthday of the city. Many are still up.
As for the blank wall of The Beat, it's still waiting for the next installation, something Jennifer lobbied for.
Now there is a reason for longer lasting mural tradition to be curated.
The right subject may be a portrait of John D. "Jackie" Gaughan, a favored and loved founding father who many are saying shaped the spirit of Las Vegas. The former owner of El Cortez was a beloved resident up to his passing at the age of 93. For many, he was much more than that, as I'm learning while Las Vegas mourns. Whenever there has been a obit written, it's usually with a photo of him as a younger man, the El Cortez sign behind him.
That's source material for a mural, provided it avoids being the inauthentic large-scale advertising that burdens the visual landscape of Las Vegas. With the right sense of realism, or with the retro aesthetic seen in some contemporary street art, a mural of Gaughan could be an example of stellar site-specific work coming out of Las Vegas.
It could be downtown's Fremont Street using the best traditions of murals, noting someone who brought a heartbeat to the city. And Gaughan can watch over his beloved El Cortez for as long as possible.
Donna Beam Gallery
Through October 26, 2018
FOUNDER + WRITER
G. James Daichendt