The Living Gallery

How one Las Vegas couple built its life around art—literally

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Michael and Karan Feder have an art gallery in Las Vegas. And you’ve got to see it to truly appreciate it. The floors are sustainable bamboo and treated concrete. The second-story loft affords a view of virtually the entire space. And it’s suffused in natural light, which all but emanates from the walls. It’s kind of a perfect gallery space, really—architecturally striking and smartly functional. It could have been airlifted from Los Angeles.

But there are two things about the gallery that are unusual. First, it’s located in a gated community on the west side of town, near Charleston Boulevard and Buffalo Drive—a part of Las Vegas renown for its cultural and artistic legacy of … well, nothing. And second, it’s the Feders’ home. Michael and Karan live in an art gallery, with their own mid-century modern furniture, their own garden and a cool little dog named Ezra Tulip.

“We liked the geometry of this place a lot,” says Michael of the live-work space he shares with his wife. It’s a sprawling 2007 tract home that Karan says was “more of a contemporary, rather than an architectural” model when they discovered it languishing in foreclosure.

The house had never been occupied, and the Feders had plenty to re-do. “It didn’t have a stovetop, didn’t have bath fixtures,” Michael says. Acting as their own general contractors, they hired teams to improve the house’s wiring and plumbing, and to see to dozens of other details: Doors were moved, windows replaced. The resulting space looks like few others.

Like the place they live in, the Feders are whole-cloth unique. Originally from Southern California (“We followed the great migration in ’04,” jokes Michael), both are heavily involved with West Coast artistic endeavors. Michael is a great collector of Southern Vernacular art pieces—what some call “outsider art,” though he bristles a bit at the term—and he was a key supplier of folk art to the House of Blues club-and-restaurant chain. (In a “proclamation” Michael hands me halfway through my visit, HOB founder Isaac Tigrett even suggests that the art was a key element in the conceptualization of the chain: “Without Michael Feder’s vision and friendship, there would be no House of Blues.”)

Karan runs a firm, Entertainment Exhibitions, a consultancy of experts from fields such as entertainment, marketing and fashion that preserves and creates exhibition layouts for classic show-business costumes. Her expertise has earned her a voting membership in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Together, the Feders run the successful brand licensing and marketing consultancy, Fame Farm, whose clients have included the Liberace Foundation and the late Tony Curtis. To do so much, you need to be close to your work—and what better way to do it than to live in the same place with it?

“The live-in gallery is a concept that you see in L.A. and other cities, but not so much in Vegas,” Michael says. “We had been looking for a place to showcase art, and we also wanted to be involved with local artists. Looking for a place that allowed us to meet those goals, to showcase art on a rotating basis, was a priority. And it’s hard to find very modern spaces that you can do that kind of work in Vegas.”

I’m actually at the Feders’ house to see Michael’s Southern Vernacular art collection. Hanging throughout the space are works by Sybil Gibson, Mose Tolliver, Howard Finster, Mary T. Smith, Richard Burnside and many others. The artists had no formal training and didn’t need any; they were storytellers first and foremost. To stand before one of these pieces is to hear it speaking to you. Michael’s conversation with the art is never-ending; ask which piece is his favorite, and he’ll simply say, “It’s whatever I happen to be staring at.” Collectors of both Southern Vernacular and modern art are welcome to tour the space by appointment (contact, and all of the pieces are for sale.

If all the Feders did was show this art, it would be enough—but the two of them are constantly busy with other projects. Michael is president of Southern Nevada Parrot Rescue; Karan designs award-winning handbags (available locally at Artifact LV in Tivoli Village) and is on the Fashion Design Advisory Board of the International Academy of Design and Technology. Even on a Saturday afternoon, when I come to visit, the house practically vibrates with their labors.

“We each have a different skill set,” Karan says. “What I do best Michael does not, and what he does best I can’t even begin to do. We very much complement each other. And usually, if one of us gets involved with a project, it sort of migrates into the other’s space at some point in time.”

Which brings us back to the gallery. Las Vegas has never been known for its fine-art market, even though homegrown talent certainly exists here. (The Feders currently have two local artists hanging on their walls, Martin Kreloff and Barry Sweet). In a small way, the Feders are hopeful that their home gallery will inspire others to take up residence in other neglected Las Vegas tract homes, waiting to become living art.

“We’re a 45-minute plane flight from San Francisco and L.A., and with Skype, you can be here and really maximize the opportunity,” Michael says. “In L.A., living like this is reserved for a tiny few. But people can come here and find out that even as creative people, they can have their own home.”