The Picture of Health

With the new Rosenquist painting, the Lou Ruvo Center is the closest thing Las Vegas has to an art museum

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Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health offers guided tours on Tuesdays and Fridays. Call 263-9797 to reserve a spot or to book an event at the Center. Tour times vary based on groups’ needs. 888 W. Bonneville Ave.

Combine the forces of two of Las Vegas’ aesthetic titans, and you’d naturally expect to see bombastic results. That’s exactly what happened when Steve Wynn, megaresort cultivator and high-stakes art investor, convinced the chairman of Keep Memory Alive organization, Larry Ruvo, that downtown’s Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health designed by Frank Gehry needed just one final adornment. The clinic already has more than 4,000 pieces in its art collection, 40 of which are in Las Vegas. So it had to be something monumental. Something important.

According to Ruvo, it was Wynn’s significant other, Andrea Hissom, who came up with the perfect solution during the couple’s first visit to the mind-bending Gehry structure. She suggested artist James Rosenquist, known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings. Wynn immediately rang up Rosenquist’s New York dealer and arranged a meeting with one of the most important artists of the Pop-art movement.

In addition to being a fan of Gehry and wowed by the building, Rosenquist has a son who suffers persistent nerve damage due to an accident. Rosenquist felt an immediate connection to the center’s cause. He told the small crowd of donors and friends of the Center at the recent unveiling of his painting, titled “Cervello Spazio Cosmico” (Italian for “brain cosmic space”), that he believed the logic-defying dimensions of Gehry’s building would make anyone who entered it “feel good.”

Although he had no idea what to paint for the space when he first saw it, Rosenquist ultimately landed upon a composition that fuses the mystifying human brain with one of his favorite themes, the mysteries posed by cosmic space. Referring to the speed of light and Einstein’s theory of the space-time continuum, Rosenquist expressed awe at the infinite complexities of our universe. He’s equally intrigued by the workings of the human brain, citing as an example his own dreams in which he can envision the details of an entire building or city that exists only in his mind.

The painting itself presents an exuberant picture of Rosenquist’s fascination with his subject matter and an otherworldliness befitting its cathedral-like setting. Part cosmic fantasy and part X-ray view of a recognizable human skull, the 10-by-20-foot oil-on-canvas painting is resplendent with prismatic colors punctuated by stellar spangles and gleaming, metallic whites against a dark field. A nosegay of roses in pale pink, magenta, orange, yellow and red explodes from the center of the picture, perhaps a metaphor for the get-well-soon vibe that Rosenquist implied was a function of center’s unique architecture.

Fortunately, members of the general public needn’t be a patient at the center to see Las Vegas’ newest contemporary masterpiece. The painting hangs in the Keep Memory Alive Event Center, and is unfortunately only accessible during complimentary guided art tours.

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