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Fine art: Brandvik’s metal structures get at the soul of Las Vegas

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Green Felt Jungle Gym is on display inside the County’s Rotunda Gallery through March 23.

The Details

Green Felt Jungle Gym
Three and a half stars
Through March 23; Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; free.
Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery, 455-7030

The metal bars of Green Felt Jungle Gym fill the heart of the Clark County Government Center. It looks like any other jungle gym with a slide and swing, rings and a climbing frame—recognizable structures found in midcentury playgrounds or the big backyards of a lucky few. Spend a little time, and the familiarity extends beyond a children’s park. Eyes adjusting to the shape and scale of the climbing frame bring the Stratosphere into focus, and a solitary swing swiftly transforms into the Luxor.

Referencing the 1963 Las Vegas organized crime exposé The Green Felt Jungle by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris, artist Mark Brandvik’s Green Felt Jungle Gym has little to do with the Mafia. The exhibition does, however, flawlessly build upon the established career of an artist, with a unique glimpse into the soul of Las Vegas.

A Valley native, Brandvik is perhaps best known for his paintings. Often depicting local architecture, or perhaps isolating a design element of a building, these precise and gorgeous paintings transcend an easy association with the typical landscape genre. The artist reduces information just enough to highlight a form’s structural essence while simultaneously flattening illusionistic space, so that the silhouette of a building takes center stage. The shape emerges shimmering from the field of vision, instantly iconic. The buildings take on a sacred dimension, reminiscent of early religious paintings and their provocatively skewed perspective.

Green Felt unfurls this reductive vision to a spare crescendo. The four primary constructions in the jungle gym are modeled after architecturally significant Las Vegas casinos. The most recognizable are the Stratosphere and the Luxor, and once identified, they briefly eclipse the monumentality of the other two (much harder to pinpoint) structures. All four take on a monolithic prominence that often leaves the secular association of the playground behind.

As quickly as an identifiable architecture emerges, its dimensionality collapses in the floating grid work of x and y axes that constitutes the intersecting bars of the jungle gym at its core. 3D becomes 2D, leaving the viewer with a suspended curtain of right angles and lines. A slight shift to the right or left brings the forms back into focus.

This architecture/jungle gym hybrid is smart and evocative, packing a pretty full punch. Brandvik quite literally depicts the ghostly, abandoned grown-up playland lingering just beneath the surface of all those grand exteriors. The real thrill is the elaborate framework of the structure itself, a massive dimensional drawing of unreliable volume and dubious angles. And rooted in these formal pleasures are the stately buildings themselves, modern architectural gods and goddesses made of little more than sticks and air.

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Danielle Kelly

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