Gallerist Stefania Bortolami’s ‘Artist/City’ puts great art in an unlikely Las Vegas venue

Some years ago, Tokyo-born painter and graphic artist Koichi Sato came to the US for the first time. He landed in LA and almost immediately hopped on a Greyhound bus for New York City. Gallerist Stefania Bortolami, whose Artist/City project comes to Las Vegas this month, got the story from him one day in passing, including a twist in the tale.

“[Sato said the bus trip] stopped in a few places, ‘and the place where I stopped the longest was Las Vegas, because I like to gamble and because Las Vegas was a very big part of my vision of America,’” Bortolami recalls. “And he was actually spending a lot of time at [Vegas’] Greyhound bus station, because he had no money; allegedly, he might even have slept there at one point.”

Work by Koichi Sato

That was all Bortolami needed to hear. She wanted to include Sato in the Artist/City series—an “experimental programming initiative” that matches accomplished artists to cities that have relevance to their work, through pop-up showings in unexpected venues. To give a few examples, previous Artist/City iterations have matched environmental artist Ann Veronica Janssens with a series of old Baltimore movie houses, sculptor Paul Pfeiffer with the Watergate Office Building in Washington, DC, and mixed-media artist Eric Wesley with an abandoned Taco Bell in St. Louis. The art is always in direct conversation to the venue, and the show stays in place longer than a traditional gallery show, to allow the artists to go beyond the limits of their established practices.

After a few phone calls, Bortolami knew Las Vegas would be the next Artist/City site—and that, serendipitously, the Downtown Vegas Greyhound station where Sato laid his head—a self-contained structure located at the south end of the Plaza Hotel and Casino—had been recently vacated.

“The Plaza has always believed in the power of art in revitalizing communities,” Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel said in an email statement. “We were proud to transform our North Tower into a canvas for three 21-story murals, and now we are excited to welcome the next iteration of Artist/City.”

Adds Bortolami, “It was an incredible coincidence. It really makes me feel that this was meant to be.”

Artist/City Las Vegas brings works by Sato, Brooklyn-based painter Susumu Kamijo and LA–based painter Jonas Wood to the cavernous Greyhound space, where they’ll remain through February 26. But don’t go expecting anything like a standard gallery presentation, Bortolami says .

“We’ll be hanging the paintings from the ceiling,” she says. “Koichi usually paints groups of people [in groups or alone], so the idea is that when you come into the space, you will see these paintings of people hanging from the ceiling that will hopefully look a little bit like people waiting for a bus. Susumu usually does abstract paintings of poodles; those will be the dogs that people have. And Jonas does [large-scale] landscapes, so it will be really like a whole environment.

“We hope,” she continues. “You never know what it’s going to look like. Whatever it looks like in my mind, it’s different once we get there. We are not touching the space; we’re not doing any renovation. It’s more like occupying the space with art and seeing what wins, art or the building.”

Bortolami is so excited for Sato’s return trip to Vegas, she has scarcely made any plans for her own. She’d like to pay a visit to Michael Heizer’s own site-specific work about four hours north of Vegas, the recently-completed massive land art piece “City.” And there’s another Southern Nevada experience that she’d like to master.

“This time, I’m coming in with people that actually know how to gamble,” she says, chuckling. “So, every week I’ll learn a trick or two. Not that I expect to win, but to at least understand a little bit more of the psychology of that.”

ARTIST/CITY Through February 26, daily, noon-6 pm The Plaza,

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