Wynn Las Vegas Magazine by MODERN LUXURY

Wynn - 2013 - Issue 1 - Spring+Summer

Wynn Magazine - Las Vegas

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A t a Christie's auction in New York this past November, excitement rippled through the crowd as bidding rose to unprecedented heights for a work of contemporary art. The lot at hand was the iconic stainless-steel sculpture Tulips by Jeff Koons. With a slam of the gavel, the piece was won by a mysterious telephone bidder and the sale went into the history books: Tulips was sold for a record-breaking $33,682,500. Soon after, the buyer was revealed to be one of the world's top art collectors, Steve Wynn. A few months prior, Wynn had received a Christie's catalog with Tulips on the cover. "It was bold, so vibrant in its color and translucent glow, and beautiful," says Wynn. "I went to New York—Christie's had installed it outside its gallery at Rockefeller Center—and I fell in love with it." "When I found out Steve was the person who acquired Tulips, I was thrilled," says Koons. He had met Wynn about a potential project with gallerist Larry Gagosian years ago, he says, but it didn't work out at the time. With a Midwest warmth (he was born in York, Pennsylvania) and the soothing diction of Mister Rogers, Koons speaks enthusiastically about the sculpture. His boyish face belies his age of 58, but the years—especially recently—have been very good to him. "Many people believe that Jeff Koons is one of the most important living artists on canvas and in sculpture today," says Wynn. Koons is indisputably a superstar in the art world. His works are in museums around the globe, and his oversize sculptures have delighted thousands in prestigious locales like Bilbao, Spain—where Puppy, his 40-foot-tall terrier made of living flowers, greeted visitors at the Guggenheim Museum— and Versailles, where his controversial but highly successful retrospective was installed within the gilded grands appartements of Louis XIV. Borrowing from American pop culture and kitsch (think inflatable toys, giant candy hearts, Popeye), a Koons work is often playful, visceral, and eye-catching—anything but subtle. So in a way Tulips, a spectacle unto itself, is a perfect match for Las Vegas. In January, Wynn unveiled his new prize in the Wynn Theater rotunda. "It's something beautiful that allows our guests to pause in a bit of wonderment," he says. Eventually, assuming Wynn doesn't ultimately decide to sell his latest treasure, Tulips will make its way to Macau, China, when he opens Wynn Cotai, and the rotunda will find a new star. "The area is an important section between the two hotels, a perfect spot for an installation—and Tulips has shown me that. I guess you could say Jeff Koons has inspired me." For visitors entering the rotunda, Tulips is a showstopper. The sculpture, weighing more than three tons, is imposing, with its larger-than-life steel flowers that vibrate with color. Each bulb gleams like a Christmas tree bauble. The piece's high polish allows viewers to see themselves reflected in the work, which was the artist's intention. "The reflection is meant to be philosophical and affirming," says Koons, who adds that he was inspired by the polished gazing balls popularized by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century. Made in five unique versions from 1995 to 2004, Tulips is the culmination of Koons's much-lauded Celebration series—a set of large-scale sculptures and paintings with festive subjects, reminiscent of children's birthday parties and more-innocent times. "At its core," says Koons, "Celebration represents a kind of cyclical year…. And Tulips is a symbol of spring, but also of hope and of fertility. It's an optimistic work, much like the rest of Celebration." Like his other polished-steel sculptures, such as Balloon Flower (Magenta)—auctioned for $25.7 million in 2009—Tulips appears as light as air, in part due to its humble origins. "For Tulips I blew up a lot of balloons, with different stems, and I would configure them and photograph them in different positions," Koons says. Over time, he explains, the models were scaled up, molded, and eventually cast in steel. Challenges would arise, such as how to polish the curves of the gargantuan works. "We basically had to develop new machines [for the process]," he adds. A version of Tulips was installed at the US embassy in Beijing in 2008 as part of Koons's involvement with the Art in Embassies program. "In China the piece has been very popular," says Koons. "They love seeing the image because within Chinese culture it's a symbol of good fortune; it's an image they respond to, making them feel good about this interaction with the United States." It could be said that installing Tulips at Wynn is also a diplomatic endeavor, given the resort's thousands of international visitors each month. It's also a way for Steve Wynn to herald world-class art for Las Vegas. "You can see how Wynn's collecting has influenced and drawn major institutions like the Guggenheim Museum to the city," Koons says. "For a community like Las Vegas—what a great place for people to come in contact with works of art." n PHOTOGRAPHY BY BARBARA KRAFT (TULIPS), CHRIS FANNING (KOONS) "Tulips is a symbol of spring, but also of hope and of fertility. It's an optimistic work." —jeff koons WYNN 048-049_W_F_ArtfullThings_Spring_13.indd 49 49 4/3/13 4:23 PM

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