Las Vegas casinos are built for dreams and dreamers. Who hasn’t imagined that your next card will be an ace, the next roll at the craps table will be a 7, or that the next pull on the slot machine will hit a jackpot? Unless your luck is better than mine (and nearly everyone else’s, too), you’ll eventually run out of quarters for the slots and Benjamins for blackjack. That’s OK. Push back from the table and take a look around.
No matter where you are in Vegas, you’re only steps from world-class art dreamed up by artists who figured out that there’s more than one way to leave a casino richer than you entered it.
Here are six notable art spots to seek out along the Strip that won’t cost you a penny — even if that’s all you have left.
Aria's public spaces
With a permanent collection of paintings, sculptures and interactive installations by acclaimed artists, Aria Resort's public spaces are teeming with art. You'll probably pause at Henry Moore's sculpture of two reclining human figures in the hotel lobby (everybody does) and at Maya Lin's nearby large-scale cast of the Colorado River (created entirely of reclaimed silver), but the real gem is on the backside of the CityCenter complex, where artist Nancy Rubins' Big Edge sits. How in the world, you'll wonder, did she cobble together hundreds of canoes, kayaks and boats so they wouldn't fall?
James Turrell plays with light and space in ways that toy with your senses. Remember that time you looked up from a ski lift and wondered how a cloudless sky could be so intensely blue? Or the first time you heard about an out-of-body experience where someone was enveloped in pure white light? You can immerse yourself in both (without the snow or the near-death elements) in Turrell's Akhab installation, two huge circular chambers filled with a carefully calibrated rainbow of brilliant light that slowly bleeds from one color to the next over 24 minutes.
The experience is otherworldly, as if your eyes were submerged in tubs of sky, ocean, snow and sunset. There’s no admission charge, but advance reservations are required.
Info: Louis Vuitton store at Crystals at City Center. 702-730-3150; reservations book up six weeks in advance.
Modern and fun
Slot machines and gaming tables aside, a first-time visitor to the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas could easily think he took a wrong turn off the Strip into a modern art museum. There's eye-catching art everywhere, from horse-size sculptures to parking garage murals. The resort's icon, though, is All Tied Up, a towering, carbon-fiber stiletto that's painted lipstick red. Don't be shy. Artist Roark Gourley knows that people don't want to take photos next to the shoe; they want to be inside the shoe.
What better place for 2,000 handmade glass flowers than adjacent to hundreds of thousands of real flowers on display in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino’s adjacent conservatory? To see for yourself, head to the hotel’s check-in desk and mimic everyone in the lobby: heads tilted skyward, admiring artist Dale Chihuly’s upside-down take on an Italian field of spring flowers.
Ancient Chinese masterpiece
It took artisans during the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th centuries) more than 100 years to carve elephants, fish, pagodas, lilies, umbrellas and a bevy of tiny warriors into a 30,000-year-old woolly mammoth tusk. Now, the magnificent treasure sits unheralded in a display case in the lobby of Treasure Island. Go seek it out, even if just to prove to yourself that your day job could be worse.
Deep into a top-to-bottom reboot, the Strat Hotel and Casino (formerly Stratosphere) is putting art front and center. You could spend an entire day exploring the hotel's 40 major installations, but the collection's heartbeat is positioned at the hotel's entryway. Called LOOK!, the sculpture of three stainless-steel figures draws your eye upward, to the top of the Strat. If you line up the three figures' open circle heads and look skyward, you'll be peering at the spot where riders on SkyJump begin their 40 mph descent from the top of the 108-story hotel tower.
Michael Hiller writes about Las Vegas each month. Follow his travels on Instagram, @CheckingInCheckingOut.