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field trip

Can the Smith Center Revive Downtown Las Vegas? Inside the $470 Million Cultural Center

In Las Vegas, when people refer to “culture,” it usually involves French-Canadian acrobat savants, ersatz monuments, or dancing fountains, but change is afoot. This month, Sin City welcomed the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a megaproject that was set into motion during headier, pre-recession days. We dispatched writer Doug McClemont to try his luck at getting an inside look at the newly opened cultural complex, and he came up trumps.

Photos: Steve Hall/HedrichBlessing

Most narratives of current state of things in Las Vegas include “overbuilt” or “downturn” in the very first sentence. Indeed, since roughly 2006 the fortunes of the legendary desert oasis have changed for the worse. Visitor spending in the destination city is on the decline, the housing market remains troubled, and MGM’s shining new star City Center, a 72-acre sprawling complex of hotels, gaming, condos, and high-end retail at the heart of the Strip, posted an operating loss of $45 million in the fourth quarter of last year. So this might seem a strange moment to be celebrating the construction of a new $470 million cultural center on the outskirts of the (still more beleaguered) downtown area. But then again Las Vegas—that ultimate paean to pastiche and panache—is not known for its introverted ways.

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a lavish art deco-influenced, multi-purpose complex that features music, visual art, theater, and education opened earlier this month. It dominates a 61-acre site in a former rail yard that is now called Symphony Park. “All of the budgeting was done in the old economy,” according to architect David M. Schwarz, “the Center was built in the new.” As a result, the architects were able to utilize high-end materials and avoid troublesome cost-cutting concerns when creating Las Vegas’s newest addition. A 170-foot tall bell tower with 47 imported bronze bells is just one opulent feature of the inviting collection of buildings.
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Inside David Stark’s Pop-Up Wood Shop

(Photos: UnBeige and Courtesy David Stark Design)

David Stark has applied his artist’s eye and bricoleur’s ingenuity to the retail scene with Wood Shop, a temporary takeover of fellow RISD alum Nina Freudenberger‘s Haus Interior in New York. As you may recall from our recent interview with the event designer, his “surprise ambush” has filled the cozy homegoods emporium with limited-edition goodies inspired by a woodworker’s studio, from hand-crocheted saw pillows and rugged Carhartt-brown canvas placemats to a tool box worth of delicate gold pendants and hand-turned poplar vases that suggest a collaboration between Giorgio Morandi and Bob Vila. The woodstravaganza lasts through Monday, February 27.

The idea for Wood Shop stemmed from a previous project for which Stark and his team created an entire house out of SmartPly, which provided a cheeky backdrop for showcasing the client company’s new collection of homegoods. “Some of the things that we made for that were so fun that we thought, wow, these could be great products,” said Stark the other day, as he guided us through Wood Shop and ended up in front of a delicious-looking dessert, made entirely of SmartPly. “The cake really came out of that kind of thing. I have a weird sense of humor, so if I walked into a store, that would be the first thing I would be drawn toward.”

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Suit Up! It’s Time for Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami

Hot Pursuit: Erwin Wurm’s “Big Hoody” (2010) at the Art Basel Miami Beach booth of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac and Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits” (2011) on offer at Jack Shainman Gallery. (Photos: UnBeige and Jack Shainman Gallery)

First the turkey, then the art and design. Today Art Basel Miami Beach opened its doors to the public. Now in its tenth year, the ever-expanding fair is showcasing works from a eye-watering 2,000 artists represented by approximately 260 galleries worldwide. Based on the champagne-swilling VIPs at yesterday’s preview (we spotted Morley Safer lounging with a cigarette and intially mistook him for a highly realistic sculpture), Erwin Wurm is gaining a lot of new fans, thanks in part to crowd-pleasing works on view at the booth of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. Drawn in by the Vienna-based artist’s disembodied pink hoodie (above), few fairgoers can resist standing under the neighboring giant, wall-mounted police officer’s cap. Wurm was also feted last night at the Bass Museum of Art, where an exhibition of his genre-bending work opened today.

Right around the corner from the Convention Center, Design Miami got a headstart on things with its opening yesterday, complete with a Veuve Clicquot-sponsored food truck and champagne lounge. In addition to works from 23 galleries, this year’s fair features “Craft Alchemy,” a performance project in which designer Elisa Strozyk and artist Sebastian Neeb work their magic on Fendi’s leather scraps. Meanwhile, architect David Adjaye gets his close-up as designer of the year, while Bjarke Ingels has teamed up with Audi on a “digital street” environment. And what’s that floral aroma wafting through the tent? Belle-Ile, a fragrance created by olfactive branding company 12.29 especially for Design Miami.

Rainbow City: FriendsWithYou’s Happy Inflatables Celebrate New Section of the High Line

(Photos: UnBeige)

When Bingo Bango, an inflatable character who resembles a cheerful mitotic cell, waves his red-mittened hand at you, it is impossible not to smile. And so it was a grinning group that gathered on Tuesday evening to celebrate the opening of Section 2 of the High Line, New York’s elevated freight rail turned sky park. Installed in the shadow of the new section, which runs from West 20th Street to West 30th Street on Manhattan’s West Side, is Rainbow City. The 16,000-square-foot wonderland of 40 inflatable structures—including a mushroom-shaped bouncey house, a 40-foot-tall figure who occassionally emits a puff of steam from his cylindrical nose, and massive striped orbs that several of the youngest partygoers declared the “funnest punching bags ever”—is the colorful creation of FriendsWithYou, the Miami-based art and design team of Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III (pictured below), and is presented by AOL as part of its ongoing creativity-boosting initiatives. Borkson and Sandoval were inspired by Holi, the Hindu spring festival during which revelers throw colored water and powder at one another, to create what they describe as “a vibrant landscape of responsive, air-filled sculptures that addresses the potency of interaction, ritual, and play.” Think Tinkertoys meets Candyland crossed with a whole lot of hot air. The installation is open to the public through July 5, and those who want to take home more than memories (and a photo with Bingo Bango and friends) can pick up Rainbow City merch at the on-site shop designed by New York-based architecture firm HWKN.

(Photos from left: Billy Farrell Agency and Erika Velazquez)

McQueen’s Moment! Sneak Peek at Metropolitan Museum’s ‘Savage Beauty’ Exhibition

Just days after the world watched the future queen of England arrive at Westminster Abbey in a ravishing gown by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveils its stunning retrospective of the late designer’s work. The spring 2011 Costume Institute exhibition, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” opens to the public on Wednesday, but we made our way past the rolls of red carpet, topiary barricades, controlled explosions of hydrangeas, and other careful preparations for this evening’s gala benefit to attend the press preview. While we catch our breath and decipher our notes, enjoy this virtual tour of what Metropolitan Museum director Thomas P. Campbell, a man not inclined to hyperbole, described this morning as “what might be the most spectacular museum costume exhibition ever mounted anywhere.”

Pictured above, the lenticular cover image of the exhibition catalogue. (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, photograph by Gary James McQueen)

The title gallery features two dresses from Alexander McQueen’s spring 2001 “VOSS” collection, one a fiery combination of ostrich feathers and painted microscope slides and the other a white column of stripped and varnished razor clam shells. (Photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“With ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ [the spring 2010 collection], Lee mastered how to weave, engineer, and print any digital image onto a garment so that all the pattern pieces matched up with the design on every seam,” says Sarah Burton in an interview in the exhibition catalogue. “That was the difficulty with the collection that followed. Where do you take it? How do you move forward?” (Photos: UnBeige)

One gallery has been transformed into a charred cabinet of curiosities, in which garments and accessories are interspersed with monitors playing footage of McQueen’s runway spectacles. Here, a balsa wood skirt from spring 1999, a headdress of metal coins from spring 2000, Shaun Leane’s “Thorn” armpiece from fall 1996, and a flutter of butterflies created by Philip Treacy out of turkey feathers for spring 2008. (Photos: UnBeige)

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Penguins Take the Guggenheim! Mr. Popper’s Films Nights at the Museum

(Photos: UnBeige)

For the past couple of nights, New York’s Guggenheim Museum has been hosting the same charity gala—an elegant affair for the apparent benefit of the “International Fund for the Arts.” The formally attired guests mingle and sip champagne for hours on end, while a more casually dressed group scurries around purposefully. They’ll be back tonight for round three. It’s not a new work by Carsten Holler but the filming of pivotal scenes in Mr. Popper’s Penguins, an upscale adaptation of the 1938 book by Richard and Florence Atwater. Directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls), the film stars Jim Carrey as Thomas Popper, a jaded real estate dealmaker who suddenly finds himself in possession of a parcel of penguins…on Park Avenue.

We adore the dramatic stylings of the rubber-faced Carrey, but it was the prospect of penguins that beckoned us to the (closed) set this week. Faux snow blanketed the Guggenheim’s 88th Street side entrance, and in the rotunda, the pseudogala was in full swing, but there wasn’t a flightless bird in sight. “They’re adding the penguins with CGI,” said our on-set spy. “The museum didn’t want to risk it.” One unit of the production crew consists of “a bunch of guys with MacBooks.” Armed with SLRs and a lot of patience, they capture digital images of each scene from multiple angles to ensure that the addition of virtual penguins is seamless, with the shadows aligned perfectly.

Much of the filming, however, includes the real thing. The production ponied up around $25,000 each for a trained team of gentoo penguins, a crew member told us. Between scenes, they retire to a spacious frozen home at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And Carrey reportedly has “amazing chemistry” with his avian costars.

Meanwhile, the film’s Guggenheim gala scenes sound like reason enough to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins, which Twentieth Century Fox is slated to release in August 2011. A scheming Popper attends the benefit to ingratiate himself to one Selma Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury), a Brooke Astor type who owns the Manhattan property he covets. We hear that the pair pauses to contemplate Ad Reinhardt‘s “Black Painting” of 1960–66 (or at least a facsimile of it) on an upper level of the museum before penguin pandemonium ensues when the six birds use Frank Lloyd Wright‘s famed ramp as a waterslide. The chaos continues as, according to production call sheets obtained by UnBeige, “Popper is chased by penguins as he leaves the Guggenheim and crosses Fifth Avenue.”

Michael Kors Aces His Martha Stewart Show Cooking Demo, Showcases Resort Collection

(Photos: David Russell/The Martha Stewart Show)

Should Michael Kors ever want to abdicate his burgeoning fashion empire, he could ace a screen test at the Food Network—and probably start a craze for black cashmere aprons (so basic, luxurious, and modern that wearers will gladly forgo all recipes involving flour). The prospect of the dapper designer joining the one and only Martha Stewart in her TV kitchen was all the convincing we neeeded to throw on a Kors-designed ensemble, hop in the UnBeigemobile, and join the bright-eyed studio audience for yesterday’s taping of The Martha Stewart Show (the episode will re-air today at 1 p.m. EST on the Hallmark Channel).

For even a veteran chef, the combination of Monday morning, live television, and the eagle eye of Martha Stewart could be a recipe for disaster, but Kors expertly walked viewers through the preparation of the pineapple upside-down cake perfected by his Grandma Bea, a junior high school principal and fashionista who “always wore a lot of jewelry when she cooked.” Kors divulged that he had spent Sunday in the kitchen whipping up a practice cake. “I wanted to make sure that I was going to be Martha-ready,” he told Stewart, who was dressed in a moss green Michael Kors ensemble. “Unfortunately, I had an I Love Lucy moment. Sugar flying everywhere, it was crazy.” No such problems on set. After Kors inverted the pan to reveal an immaculate glistening ring, Stewart pronounced his cake a delicious success.

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Tiptoe through the Terraces! In NYC, an Outdoor Space for Every Taste

Terrace E72.JPGUnBeige HQ is home to several excellent chairs and enough design books to make industrial shelving shudder, but our outdoor space is limited to a rickety fire escape of questionable escape-worthiness. Thus our fascination with the rarified species known as the Manhattan terrace. We dispatched writer Nancy Lazarus to join the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) for its exclusive residential terrace safari. The band of intrepid landscape design fans traversed Manhattan last week, stopping at four terrace-endowed residences—from a rooftop pleasure palace hidden atop a classic brownstone near Union Square to a Zen paradise on the Upper East Side. The designers and owners were on hand at each stop to discuss their outdoor pieds-à-terre. Lazarus filed this report.

A penthouse terrace in a brownstone on East 17th Street overlooking Stuyvesant Park was the starting point of the FIAF tour. Chris Myers, the terrace’s exterior designer and principal of Just Terraces described the theme as “a low-maintenance bachelor rooftop spa, accessible year-round.” For Mark Hass, the terrace owner, “The design maximizes the space, over 900 square feet, and the roof deck reflects the footprint of the apartment below.” The amenities included a hot tub, full kitchen with bar and grill, lounge chairs, coffee table, couch, and skylight to his apartment downstairs. Sycamore trees, cherry laurel, and liriope plants added to the casual setting.

The next stop was uptown on East 75th Street, where Christine Guelton owns a ground floor garden terrace. “The Zen theme was inspired by my garden when I lived in Japan,” she explained. “The terrace is an extension of my living room, and at night when we turn on the lights we see the garden through the picture window.” Myers was also the designer here, and Guelton said, “He worked with the original landscape, which was sloped, and he re-used the existing materials.” Crushed marble pebbles were added to create tiered steps and white planters make the area appear lighter. In the winter, snow provides more illumination, while the maple tree forms an umbrella of shade during the rest of the year.

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On Designing a Time Machine

time_machine.jpgAnd speaking of time, this time in lower-case, what mental picture do you see when you hear the word “time machine”? Because the majority of our mental pictures involve the canonical 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we think of the golden-domed glass elevator Wonkavator that soars over the dreary skyline (which for some reason, we’ve always assumed to be postwar Belgium) in the final sequence. Kurt Andersen examines the finer points of time machine design in the latest episode of Studio 360, a special time travel show taped in front of a studio audience—perhaps one populated with people from the past, or the future. In this segment, Andersen chats with Simon Wells, great-grandson of H.G. Wells and the director of the 2002 film adaptation of The Time Machine, about how a time machine should be designed. Meanwhile, physicist David Goldberg says the time transport vehicle might look more like a spaceship, and Goldberg and science fiction author Connie Willis debate whether a visitor to the past would be able to reshape the future, with unforeseeable consequences. Power up your flux capacitor and click below to listen.

UnBeige@NYIGF: Gravity-Defying Gardening

sky planter.jpg
(Photos: neo-utility)

This week found us back at Manhattan’s sprawling Jacobs Javits Center for the New York International Gift Fair, a bi-annual wonderland of gizmos, stuff, and really good homegoods that always makes us consider abandoning this whole words business to start a forward-looking gift hut in say, Bora Bora. Of the show’s 2,900 exhibitors, we focused on those in the juried Accent on Design division as one of five judges for the “Bloggers’ Choice Awards.” Our top product pick—based on the criteria of “creativity, functionality, and originality, urgent, odd, and delightful design”—is the Boskke Sky Planter, designed by Central Saint Martins Grad Patrick Morris and on offer from Brooklyn-based neo-utility. Suspended from a ceiling or wall-mount, the ceramic planter locks the plant and soil into place, where it is watered gradually from a reservoir hidden in the top. An elegant solution to fussy orchid pins and an innovative way to use plants as design elements, particularly in small spaces.

Previously on UnBeige:

  • The Gift Fair That Keeps On Giving
  • UnBeige@NYIGF: Bucky’s Birdhouse
  • UnBeige@NYIGF: Rich Brilliant Willing’s Russian Nesting Doll Tables