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Neon Gods’ exhibit reflects on the Vegas Valley’s unfinished state of existence

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Echelon Place, part of the To the Neon Gods They Made exhibit on display at Winchester Cultural Center.

The Details

To the Neon Gods They Made
Three and a half stars
Through January 20, free
Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 McLeod Dr., 455-8239

For several decades, the Vegas Valley had the feel of an ant farm: the constant shifting of dirt, buildings coming down and newer ones going up as more and more bodies poured into the area at a hectic pace. The tumult of recent years is marked in stark contrast by construction activity ground to a halt and projects left abandoned or incomplete, architecture stunted on its path to glory. In a region littered with monuments to what might have been, the unfinished edifice is perhaps the most distinct symbol of Las Vegas in the second decade of the 21st century.

Local artists Tony Flanagan and Michael Monson wonder if passersby register the vacancies at all, embedded as they are in a landscape of arrested reinvention. Their collaborative exhibition To the Neon Gods They Made attempts to redeem these discarded idols in a series of photographs that elevate the status of “lost” buildings to some semblance of their previously orchestrated glory.

In their astute artist statement the two reflect on the symbiosis between Las Vegas residents and constant development, one in which “construction is so ubiquitous that progress, or lack of progress, often goes unnoticed.” We are so accustomed to construction, they suggest, that we cannot tell when the fabrication has stopped.

Manhattan West, Fontainebleau and the Harmon are the spectral stars of Neon Gods. Each skeleton looms large and dramatic, dominating the stage of each image, radiating a kind of ghostly glamour. The midsize digital prints employ high dynamic range (HDR) imaging to imbue a subtle unfocused shimmer, a technique employed by the artists to affect a kind of neon glow. The process involves shooting several images at each site, usually at night, then merging the highlights of each together to create a photo that is essentially several exposures in one. The best of these portray architecture exalted in anticipation, others a chimera of loss.

Is the silence perceived by Flanagan and Monson a reflection of our inability to see, or a general unwillingness? Perhaps it is less painful, as we drive by an abandoned building, to simply look away. These bones are the architectural ruins of grand plans, not disinterested people. It’s hard to imagine a Las Vegas without new and without more.

Seldom does an exhibition title strike such a chord as To the Neon Gods They Made, paraphrasing the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence.” With a lack of irony almost cute by contemporary standards, the song’s sincerity communes with the exhibition’s reverence and offers a narrative that, if we are lucky, might be our own. Both are filled with shimmering monuments to squandered potential and forgotten dreams: promises, disappointment, honesty and rebirth.

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Danielle Kelly

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