Not All Burning Man Art Gets Incinerated. A New Sculpture Park in Las Vegas Is Offering It a Permanent Home—Unless You Want to Buy It
The art and entertainment complex will also feature a new Meow Wolf experience early next year.
A mysterious bunker in the Las Vegas desert finally opened to the public last week, but don’t expect to learn any government secrets at Area15, a new art and entertainment complex that includes Art Island, an outdoor gallery of monumental, Burning Man-style artworks.
Just a stone’s throw from the neon lights of the Las Vegas strip, Area15 is housed in an austere building that founder Michael Beneville likened to the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“I love Las Vegas—the lights and the glitz. We knew that we couldn’t even try to do something that could outdo the casinos,” Beneville told Artnet News during a Zoom tour of the venue. “I like to say Area15 wasn’t designed by creative people. It was designed by some bunker-building agency, and then the inmates have taken over inside, because that’s where all the creative activity happens.”
Five years in the making, Area15 is the brainchild of Beneville, a 10-year Burning Man veteran who wanted to bring its innovative communal spirit to another venue.
“Burning Man is its own very special thing,” Beneville said. “It’s 68,000 of the most creative people on the planet coming together to build something that’s just extraordinary. I’m humble enough to know that we would never try to recreate Burning Man.”
But every year after Burning Man, artists are faced with the question of what to do with the monumental sculptures they build for the event in Black Rock Desert.
At Area15, Art Island is now home to such eye-popping pieces as Michael Benisty’s 14-foot-tall polished steel statue of a man and woman embracing, In Every Lifetime I Will Find You, and Alchemy Arts’s OMAH, a neon-lit owl sculpture poised in flight. And Beneville is not only displaying these artworks, he’s also making them commercially available.
“Real-estate developers, municipalities, and other people who are interested in purchasing this kind of work can come and actually see the piece in some kind of context,” Beneville said. “In a photograph, you can’t get a sense of how spectacular this work is.”
As befits the latest entry into the “experience economy,” many Area15 attractions lend themselves to capturing perfect Instagram moments, from a flame-breathing, water-spouting dragon set against the endless desert skies (Ivan McLean’s El Scorcho) to a 23-foot-tall Japanese maple tree by Symmetry Labs outfitted with 5,000 individual LED lights.
Other art installations include Shogyo Mujo, a 12-foot-tall, 360-degree projection of a skull by Bart Kresa and Josh Harker that greets guests at the entrance.
Much of the facility, however, is reserved for retail shops selling exotic festival gear and other boutique fashions. A private event space called Portal features 3-D projections that will envelop guests in artist-designed environments.
To bring the project to life, Beneville, who runs New York creative agency Beneville Studios, teamed up with New York real-estate firm Fisher Brothers, and got the Santa Fe art arts and entertainment company Meow Wolf to sign on as the anchor tenant.
Their 52,000-square-foot space, the grocery store-themed Omega Mart, is on track to open in early 2021.
“What they’re building here is just unbelievable,” Beneville said. “It’s a send up on commentary on consumerism that is second to none.”
Area15’s name, of course, is a play on Area 51, Nevada’s highly classified United States Air Force base that has spawned countless conspiracy theories about a government coverup of the existence of aliens—but initially it was just a working title meant to give the project an intriguing air of mystery. It stuck when Beneville and his team realized it worked on multiple levels: Fisher Brothers was founded in 1915, and the complex is built along Interstate 15, which runs through Vegas.
“We thought, we’ll put a big fence up around it and make it a perimeter—it will be this special ops location that is on lockdown,” said Beneville. “Six months later, we were looking down at a site plan and we saw that it was on Route 15!”
Beneville and his co-curator, Josh Levine, are now lining up new works to show on Art Island, including Chris Carnabuci’s 26-foot-tall Mariposita, a woman emerging from a giant egg that was one of the highlights of Burning Man 2019.
“This art shouldn’t sit in a warehouse,” Beneville said.
See more photos of Area15 below.
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