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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Las Vegas Life on the Guggenheim Las Vegas: Bad Building!

The November 2003 issue of Las Vegas Life magazine has an article (not online) about the demise of the Guggenheim Las Vegas. While the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum still remains, the Rem Koolhaas-designed "Big Box" closed 15 months after its September 2001 opening. The article attributes the space’s lack of longevity to its aesthetic failure to engage viewers. The main critique focused on the building's barebones look, with exposed beams, raw concrete, and little decorative features to capture the eye. The article describes nicely how the interior of the building's modern minimalism failed to be the visual attraction that a Vegas museum needed to be. Tucked within the depths of the Venetian, the museum lacked an exterior facade with the exception of a 7-story door only visible while walking in from the parking garage.

But the article neglects the more significant factors that doomed the museum. The partnership of a non-profit museum with ambitions of corporate-like expansion and a casino attempting to build cultural cache was one built on shaky ground. The opening of the museums coincided with the worst act of terrorism in the history of the country, and in both NYC and Las Vegas that had huge financial impact. New York never saw Vegas locals as a market and neglected to allocate advertising dollars to get their attention. With a majority of Las Vegas tourists arriving via plane, the severe decrease in air travel to the city meant that the Las Vegas-based Guggenheims lost any hope of attendance momentum. The hoped-for attendance was estimated at approximately 4,000 people per day, an exceptionally high and ambitious number. But those numbers never materialized, and daily attendance averaged between 900 to 1,200. The museum never generated the revenue that it expected and needed. The stressed relationship between museum and casino, thus irreparably damaged, meant the days of the Guggenheim Las Vegas were numbered. The Guggenheim Hermitage, while affected by the fallout, was protected because its construction was solely funded by the New York museum. More importantly, it rents its location, like most of the other shops and cafes in the Venetian. The financial and funding entanglements between the Venetian and Guggenheim put into place meant the casino could exercise control over the Big Box's destiny in a different manner.

posted by Mr. Kimberly at