Best art city in America? It might be Las Vegas

Las Vegas is full of surprises, and one of the biggest is the fact that the city is home to a thriving art scene.

a person in a white room: The art-filled Palms Casino Resort welcomes guests with a postcard-worthy collaboration between light artist Olivia Steele and photographer Keegan Gibbs

Wherever you look now, from the nooks and crannies of luxury hotels on the Strip to the sides of buildings downtown, you can find pieces of art that will stop you in your tracks and make you laugh, think or just admire.

“Today, more than ever, visitors want to feel like they’re part of the art while also sharing their experience with others,” said Tarissa Tiberti, who, as Executive Director of MGM Resorts Art & Culture, oversees more than 800 pieces in the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection. “Over the years, we’ve found multiple opportunities to showcase immersive, interactive exhibits throughout our resorts, and this is a trend we plan to continue.”

Although there are some art tours being offered, much of the joy comes from exploring and finding these works on your own.

Here are ten pieces worth seeking out. Make sure your phone is charged and you’re ready for your selfie.

“Smiling King Bear” at Wynn Las Vegas

a colorful kite: "Smiling King Bear" at Wynn Las Vegas

It’s almost impossible to run into “Smiling King Bear” holding court in the Wynn Plaza rotunda at Wynn Las Vegas and not smile yourself.

Towering at 16 feet tall, the whimsical bear wears a spiked crown and holds an equally imposing smiling ball. A multicolored geometric masterpiece, it’s made of fiberglass, aluminum and highly pigmented synthetic enamel and is executed in the artist Okuda San Miguel’s signature prismatic style.

“LOVE” at The Venetian Las Vegas

a large white building: "LOVE" at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas

This larger-than-life installation (it measures 12 feet high and 36 feet wide) was originally introduced at the Life is Beautiful festival in 2016, and was so popular, it’s now made a home in the Waterfall Atrium of The Venetian Las Vegas, which offers two free 90 minute tours of the property’s art and architecture daily.

“‘LOVE’ is about being free to love who you want, the way you want,” said artist Laura Kimpton about the piece, from her Monumental Word Series. “The bird stamps in the letters represent being able to follow your dreams, which is the message that I hope will inspire people as they interact with the piece.”

Murals at El Cortez Hotel and Casino

a person standing in a room: The new premium rooms Tower of the El Cortez Hotel & Casino features powerful murals

Each floor of the new premium rooms Tower in the historic El Cortez Hotel and Casino features this powerful mural by local artist, ORFIN, in its own unique color scheme so you know, when you get off the elevator, you’re in the right place.

The mural showcases a mushroom cloud, as a nod to the atomic testing once visible from Downtown Las Vegas, as well as the iconic neon signs along Fremont Street, including the legendary marquee that sits on top of the hotel.

“Smiley Coppers Panel I” at Greene St. Kitchen

a room filled with furniture and a table: "Smiley Coppers Panel I" by Banksy at Greene St. Kitchen

Greene St. Kitchen at Palms pays tribute to New York City’s vibrant Soho district with rooms filled with graffiti and street art reflecting the spirit of the artists, musicians and writers who defined it.

It’s only fitting that the restaurant is now home to Las Vegas’ first permanent work by elusive – and legendary – street artist, Banksy. This spray-painted depiction of two heavily-armed police officers with neon yellow smiley faces hangs, more than seven feet tall and six feet wide, behind the DJ booth.

The Artist Studio at Bellagio

a large white room: You can watch artist Yasuaki Onishi at work in the Artist Studio at Bellagio

The outstanding Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is always a must-visit, and what makes it even more special is the fact that you can get a rare and intimate look at the process of actually creating art at The Artist Studio next door.

Renowned artist Yasuaki Onishi is the Bellagio’s current artist-in-residence, and you can explore his solo exhibition, which features two large-scale installations that reinterpret the principle elements of sculpture, including mass, volume, motion and shape. Then, watch him work on a new piece, using locally-sourced materials and his own unique adaptation of traditional metalwork and casting techniques.

The Writer’s Block

a store inside of a building: The Writer's Block is filled with art and books

Sure, this indie bookstore celebrates the literary arts but it’s also a visual delight, featuring a stunning tile mural, an artificial bird sanctuary and cozy, forest-like offices where proprietors Scott Seeley and Drew Cohen can be found compiling book club lists, choosing next season’s rare book to display or planning events with literary magazine “The Believer.”

All of this takes place in an inviting, roomy space filled with plants, natural light and a lovingly-curated collection of books, art and gifts. The smell of fresh coffee and pastries makes you feel right at home – an art in itself.

Downtown street art

a sign on an awning on the side of a road: Shephard Fairey, "Corporate Welfare"; piece curated for the Life is Beautiful Festival (2016)

Street art has taken over Downtown Las Vegas, with murals by big-name artists – as well as anonymous ones – making powerful statements and transforming buildings into outdoor galleries. One of the biggest names is Shepard Fairey, and his “Corporate Welfare” can be found on the side of the Emergency Arts building on East Fremont Street.

“Over the past five years, Las Vegas has seen an increase in Fairey’s work, which is always great for mural tourism,” said William Shea, co-author with Patrick Lai of the eye-popping new book, “Street Art Las Vegas.”

“As with all of his work, there is a message that focuses on the ethics surrounding the political or business world. In classic Fairey style, this is a hybrid piece, created in the spirit of classic cold war propaganda posters combined with the socioeconomic struggles of today.”

Empathy Suite at Palms Casino Resort

"Winner/Loser (2018)" by Damien Hirst in the Empathy Suite at Palms

This two-story, 9000 square foot suite at Palms was designed by world-renowned artist Damien Hirst and houses many pieces of his museum-worthy art. It’s the first and only hotel accommodation to feature a collection of contemporary art at this scale – and, at $100,000 per night, with a two-night minimum stay, it’s also the most expensive.

In addition to Hirst’s bespoke furniture, six of his original works are showcased in the Sky Villa including “Winner/Loser (2018),” two bull sharks suspended in formaldehyde in a white tank set into the wall of the suite.

The Big Shoes at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

"Fit To Be Tied" at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

The Cosmopolitan has art in so many unexpected places (check out the dog sculptures on the second floor of Chelsea Tower) but it’s the giant shoes by Roark Gourley that continue to feed Instagram.

Made from resin and carbon fiber and covered with automotive paint to withstand guests climbing on and posing inside them, the candy apple-colored “Fit To Be Tied” is located on the first floor of Boulevard Tower, in front of The Chandelier. Its companion, the black “Steam Pump,” leaves its footprint on the second floor.

ABSINTHE Electric Oak at Caesars Palace

ABSINTHE Electric Oak at Caesars Palace

This 35-feet tall tree stands in the ABSINTHE Courtyard, and boasts 25,000 illuminated leaves and 175,000 LED lights which are programmable and reactive to music.

The ABSINTHE Electric Oak was dreamed up by The Gazillionaire, the star of the hilarious and oh-so-crude show which has already entertained more than one million guests over its eight-year run.

“I’ve always been inspired by the story of George Washington and the cherry tree,” he explained. “So I planted this tree as a reminder of all the little people I’ve chopped down to become the number one showbiz legend in Las Vegas history. This trippy tree can change colors depending on what chemically-adjusted mood I’m in and what music I’m playing. I was proud to be the first ever Tree-J at the show’s recent anniversary party.”

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