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New terminal’s $5 million collection showcases Vegas’ art talent

If you define "art" as a painting, in a frame, hung on a wall – then McCarran International Airport’s new Terminal 3 has no art.

But if you look beyond – and above – that definition, T3 is Las Vegas’ newest gallery.

Sculptures suspended from the terminal’s ceiling depict fiery desert sunsets, arroyos filled with turquoise water, even butterflies in plane-shaped formations.

Dichroic glass works, shaped to suggest sunbeams, sunsets, even bubble-shaped clouds, reflect and refract ever-changing light from expansive windows.

Oversize photographs capture resplendent Southwest canyons, from Arizona’s Grand Canyon to Southern Nevada’s very own Red Rock.

There’s even a painting – a 3-D "Folies Bergere" chorus line in fan-shaped headdresses to match their blue and orange feathers ‘n’ spangles costumes.

All are part of a $5 million collection designed to "let everyone know that art is important to us," and to showcase "that we do have talent in the community," said Rosemary Vassiliadis , deputy director of the Clark County Department of Aviation.

Local artists were given preference in the art selection, Vassiliadis notes, although artists from Oregon, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are represented.

Overall, the selection process hinged on "what would stand out in a terminal, when people are in a hurry," she said.

Or, perhaps, when people are in the mood to slow down.

After all, "you’re enhancing the experience of the viewer, who’s been in an airplane for hours – or is maybe stuck at the airport," said Talley Fisher, the Pennsylvania sculptor behind an interrelated trio of installations at the terminal’s east end. "It sort of enlivens the space and enables people to drift off and ponder the artwork."

Fisher’s "Desert Sunrise" – featuring laser-cut, powder-coated aluminum shapes suspended from the ceiling – shimmers in the light, its colors shifting from gold to orange to red to purple. An adjacent "Waterfall" – nine curtains of silvery polished bead chains – spills from the terminal’s top level to the two levels below. And on the terminal’s lowest level, "Blue Arroyo" hovers above T3 visitors, its blue aluminum shapes suggesting a flowing river.

"They’re all related to water – the lifeblood of the desert," she explained.

With the morning light streaming through three-story windows, "the color is just vibrant," said Fisher, who oversaw the execution and installation of the sculptures she and her father, Rob Fisher, designed and rendered before his death in 2006.)

At the opposite end of the terminal, another expansive piece – Portland-based Ed Carpenter’s "Rays" – splits the spectrum as sunlight shines through its prismlike dichroic glass panels, creating dancing patterns of pinks, blues and yellows on the floor.

That’s by design, Carpenter said. Surrounding surfaces – ceiling, walls and floor – become animated by the light, with a certain amount of serendipity in the way the light plays off the sculpture.

A solar motif also turns up in "Sunset Mirage," one of two 90-by-19-foot dichroic glass creations from Las Vegas-based Domsky Glass, alias Barbara and Larry Domsky. "Sunset Mirage" shows off burnished reds and oranges, while the couple’s "Cloud 9" presents cloud formations shimmering in snowy opalescence.

The Domskys were "inspired by the natural surroundings," Larry Domsky said. "This is a powerful place."

And their works are designed to showcase the power of the Southern Nevada landscape beyond the Strip.

"Quite often, people come here and they’re so taken with all the lights and the Strip, they ignore the natural elements," Barbara Domsky said.

Natural and human elements combine in another suspended sculpture: Stu Schechter’s "Mirare ," which the Massachussetts-based artist describes as "3-D pointillism, indicating aircraft made out of butterflies."

Distant viewers see two vintage DC-3 airplanes. Up close, they’ll see the 3,000 butterflies that form the planes – butterflies with lead-free pewter bodies and fluttering polymer wings.

Look even closer and you’ll note that the butterflies making up the more ghostlike of the two planes have images of real butterflies on their wings: butterflies whose migration takes them through Nevada. The butterflies of the more defined plane, by contrast, have airline logos on their wings, reflecting "more of the human effort," Schechter noted in describing the piece as "a nice meditation on travel" both natural and mechanical.

The terminal’s other wall-mounted artworks focus on less abstract aspects of Las Vegas and environs.

Las Vegan Terry Ritter’s 3-D acrylic painting "Folies in Flight," in the Customs area, recalls the glory days of the Vegas showgirl, captured in action. It’s a perspective the artist knows well, having been a Strip performer before turning to art full time.

"But this is what I wanted to be since I was 9 years old and I got an A-plus on an art project," Ritter said. "I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do when I grow up.’ "

Las Vegas-based photographer Peter Lik , meanwhile, captures the Southwest’s rugged scenic grandeur in three large photographs of Utah’s Arches National Park, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon.

"Almighty," Lik’s Red Rock photograph, "shows how close nature is to Vegas and 99 percent of people wouldn’t even know it exists,” he said. "It’s only 30 minutes from Vegas and it’s like you’re in another world."

Those who learn of it, he said, might extend their stay – which is, ultimately, the goal of the artworks and of the artists.

"It’s making art for people who are not coming to see art," Schechter said. "It’s unexpected – and it’s pleasurable. You’re not going there to see art, but it attracts you, and you then approach it, and the little things start to pop."

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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