Does the Wet Suit You

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Art in Public Places

By JJ Gaspaarotti

An image of Las Vegas can be conjured up by the woman with the “Please Help” sign. There she is, frail, sporting a fresh black eye, a split lip, with some teeth missing from her sweet smile. Waiting for cars to pass by on the bottom of the interstate off-ramp.

Each car receives a smile and a blessing as they pass her by. Sometimes a window rolls down and there’s a donation. That stimulates some furtive movement in the bushes besides her. Mr. “Please Help?” Welcome to the fabulous Las Vegas Strip folks.

Once you do get to the strip, the picture brightens considerably. That brings up some questions about art in public places. Is the Las Vegas Strip a work of art, or does it just have art in it? There is a lot of good art on the strip, not just the neon.

It’s like the days before any media, including photographs in books. People who wanted to see important art had to go view it in person. Places like the Rose Window in Notre Dame or that Italian ceiling painter’s work in Rome required a visit. Hundreds of years later, they are still worth the trip.

Two modern examples of this art are at the Bellagio Hotel. The fountains out front dance to music. There is no way a video or a photo will capture the art of this fountain dancing to the music of Arron Copeland’s “Billy The Kid.”

Inside the lobby, there’s a ceiling of glass flowers by Dale Chihuly called, Fiori Di Como, that can never be captured in a picture. You don’t get the full impact unless you are there. This art of Vegas stays in Vegas.

This points to a shortcoming with art in public places in Laguna. There’s nothing big. Or if it is big, it doesn’t last more than the instant of a temporary installation. What we’ve got are shiny trinkets sprinkled decoratively all around town.

Our parks are starting to look like grandma’s yard. All her grandchildren go to art school and make her special gifts of art, in gratitude for her paying the tuition. Sort of like a giant refrigerator door covered with outlines of hands drawings.

Is there some rule that says art in public places money has to be spent right away? Can’t we save it up and fund something really special? A herd of Koonsian stainless steel goats perhaps? We’ve already got the lady with the “Please Help” sign and the furtive movements in the bushes.


J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since

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