Las Vegas looks to Burning Man for some of its most compelling public art pieces.
Life Cube gives artists the chance to put their mark on the structure before it is ceremoniously burned down to reflect the idea that nothing is permanent—including life itself.
As MGM Resorts International put the finishing touches on its long-awaited Park last year, the company turned to an unlikely source—the northern Nevada-based arts festival Burning Man—for the space’s pièce de résistance, a 40-foot-tall steel sculpture of a nude woman in motion. “MGM was looking for a piece of art that was unusual and riveting,” says Marco Cochrane, the artist behind Bliss Dance, the Park’s unofficial anchor. “Bliss Dance’s first placement was in the desert at Burning Man in 2010, and now she’s back in the desert in Vegas.”
Relocating the sculpture to Las Vegas from its temporary home on San Francisco’s Treasure Island, where it had stood since 2011, is a more natural fit for Cochrane’s creation than most people realize. “Bliss Dance isn’t just art for art’s sake—it’s intended to convey a social message,” the artist explains. “MGM really cared about the message of the sculpture, which is intended to humanize women.”
Of course, Bliss Dance isn’t the first public art piece Vegas has acquired from Burning Man. Perhaps the most familiar transplant is former aerospace engineer Kirk Jellum’s metal praying mantis, which stands sentry outside Downtown Container Park.
Debuted at the festival in 2010, the 40-foot-long creature—Jellum’s first art project—was purchased by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in 2012 as part of his $350 million Downtown Project revitalization. Along with shooting flames from its antennae, the oversize insect moves, speaks, and plays music from a 4,000-watt interior sound system.
Also taking over Downtown is Scott Cohen’s community-driven Life Cube Project, a short-term piece that returned in March for two-and-a-half weeks of interactive collaboration between Cohen and local artists. Originally staged at Burning Man in 2011, the project overtook a vacant Fremont Street parking lot for the first time in 2014, encouraging visitors to paint or write their goals and dreams on a 24-square-foot whitewashed cube. “It wasn’t until after the project was up,” Cohen recalls, “that a local artist commented that it was the largest canvas in Las Vegas.” Per tradition, the piece later was publicly burned in a sunset ceremony attended by thousands of people, emphasizing the ephemeral natures of art and life.
“We’re in a world where efficiency is what everyone strives for, but I was doing the opposite of that,” Cohen adds of the project, which he hopes to bring back to Vegas in the future. “What I found in Las Vegas is that there’s a hunger to get involved with projects like this—to get involved with expression.”