Is Vegas the new go-to destination for US art? Picasso fans seem to think so

An auction attendee photographs one of the 11 Picasso paintings up for grabs
An auction attendee photographs one of the 11 Picasso paintings up for grabs Copyright Reuters
By Shannon McDonaghReuters
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The MGM Resorts group have somewhat of a ubiquitous presence on the Vegas strip. An enormous sale of half of their Picasso collection has the rest of the world asking - since when did Vegas own so much art?


Eleven Picasso paintings and other works that helped turn Las Vegas into an unlikely destination for art were sold at auction on Saturday for more than $100 million (€86 million).

The Sotheby's auction was held at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, where the works had been on display for years, and took place two days before the 140th birthday of the Spanish artist on October 25.

Five of the paintings had hung on the walls of the Bellagio's fine dining restaurant, Picasso. The Michelin-starred restaurant has built a reputation for its French and Spanish cuisine, with diners surrounded by the artist's groundbreaking cubist works.

Their collection is by no means limited - the restaurant will continue to display 12 other Picasso paintings on its walls.

Sales broke all expert estimates by some margin

Painting "Femme au béret rouge-orange" displayed before it sold for €34.8 million in Las Vegas, NevadaBRIDGET BENNET/REUTERS

The highest price for a Picasso was fetched by the 1938 painting "Femme au beret rouge-orange" of Picasso's lover and muse Marie-Therese Walter, which sold for $40.5 million (€34.8 million).

This particular sale exceeded its pre-sale estimate by over $8 million.

Large-scale portraits "Homme et Enfant" and "Buste d'homme" sold for $24.4 million and $9.5 million respectively, while smaller works on ceramic, like "Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe" went for three or four times their pre-sale estimate.

The buyers' names were not disclosed.

Saturday's sale was part of a bid by casino and hotel group MGM Resorts to further diversify its vast collection to include more art from women, people of colour and emerging nations as well as from LGBTQ+ artists and artists with disabilities.

Mixing up Vegas' vast art collection

John Locher/AP 2019
The famous Las Vegas strip sign sits in the foreground of art-collecting MGM's Mandalay Bay ResortJohn Locher/AP 2019

The Vegas strip is home to debauchery, last-minute weddings and jaw-dropping entertainment. It's less common, however, to identify it as a good home for important artworks.

Resorts are constantly commissioning new murals and pieces, along with displaying pieces you wouldn't expect from Banksy, Basquiat, Murakami, Hirst, Warhol, and more.

A 2019 Public Library of Science study of 18 leading U.S. museums found that 85 per cent of the artists on display are white and 87 per cent are men.

American museums and art galleries have been working to broaden their collections in the wake of the widespread cultural reckoning in 2020 over racial injustice. They're finding that it's just as applicable to cultural institutions as it is to wider governance of the US, and that a rethink is required over how they can spotlight historically undervalued artists.

MGM are a mega-prescence on the Las Vegas strip, owning a number of resorts and performance venues that generate billions of dollars a year.

Their Fine Arts Collection boasts about 900 works by 200 artists, including modern pieces by Bob Dylan and David Hockney. It was started more than 20 years ago by Steve Wynn, former owner of the Bellagio and former chief executive of Wynn Resorts.

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