Seven Questions for Patrick Duffy, Las Vegas Art Museum President

Duffy on curating Life Is Beautiful, art world snobbery and the joy of collecting

Patrick Duffy

Photo by Anthony Mair

As the chief “experience” officer for Diamond Resorts International, Patrick Duffy trains the company’s 6,000 employees in the “Meaning of Yes.” The philosophy implies an openness to everything, and it’s one that Duffy is apt to embody—particularly when his focus turns to his passion: A prominent Las Vegas art collector, Duffy has more than 350 pieces in his private collection and several more hanging in his office as “overflow” (his most recent acquisition is a Giacomo Manzù bronze sculpture). These days, the philanthropist and art enthusiast is busy curating The Odyssey: A Visual Art Experience in the Town Lodge Motel for the Life Is Beautiful festival October 26-27.

How did you go about curating Life Is Beautiful?

What I wanted to create in this two-story motel [pictured]—using the first story and a few rooms on top—was an understanding of an art journey. So I’m starting off with a 10-year-old painter who has never really taken an art lesson until recently. Then I’m going to display works from Las Vegas Academy—I seldom get shocked when it comes to art, [but] I was left with my jaw scraping the pavement when I saw what they’re doing over there. Then I’m going to feature Las Vegas-based artists—early career, mid career. I want the community and I want the festival-goers to get a good idea of what is coming out of the art world in Las Vegas.

How should we approach The Odyssey at Life Is Beautiful? 

Come into it free of any earlier baggage, any concerns, trepidation, apprehension, lack of understanding for art—just come on in. Immerse yourself. Look at the journey of how that 10-year-old has been creating art since he was 4. Look all the way around to William T. Wiley, who has international representation, and see how far he’s gotten. Visit with the artists and talk to them. That’s how it begins. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. I say the wrong thing every day. Do not take any offense to any possible snobbism or elitism that may come your way. Take a look at that work. Do you like it? Do you not like it? Why? Ask the inquiring questions. Validate your feeling through conversation.

Why are people often intimidated by art? 

Because artists and sometimes gallerists come off as these elite snobs. I’ve seen it all over the world. It’s off-putting. … Globally, the art community has not made it friendly. And while our gallerists here are fabulous, they could be better, and I told them that in a panel discussion when I said, “You really suck at selling, but I’m here to show you how to sell because I sold jewelry for 32 years. I could sell a 40-carat diamond just as easily as I could sell a $200 painting.” I’m going to put together a group of artists and gallerists, and teach them how to communicate [with] that client.

You hear these gallerists yack about First Friday—“Oh, there’s nothing to do with art.” Really? You mean your kind of art? Your high-academic kind of MFA art. Guess what? It ain’t all MFA art. Those are still people who have something to say, and they’re using canvas or whatever materials to say it. They’re artists.

Any advice for a person who’s interested in collecting art but doesn’t know where to start?

First, don’t worry about the money. I used to buy Sol LeWitt paintings with grocery money. … If you can apportion part of one’s net worth to acquire a piece, do it. If it’s a piece that you saw in a gallery that really moved you, it’s going to move you every day when it’s in your own home. It becomes part of you, and you become part of it. Then you’re stung. Then you start to branch out, and it takes awhile. There’s no road race. You begin to hone your own interests, desires, mediums, and there’s this wonderful research journey that can take place … if one wants to. Collecting isn’t a have to; I don’t have to collect, but I want to. It gives me the position to know that I can help 350 artists’ careers just by acquiring, living with, donating or lending [their art].

As you know being the president of the Las Vegas Art Museum and on the boards of The Smith Center and The Neon Museum, this isn’t the most art-receptive city. How can we change that?

Gallerists, curators and art people need to listen to the many and not make decisions for the few. Find out what our city likes and doesn’t like—[maybe] it’s a senior-citizen water-color group. … If your community wants an art museum, it will tell you. If your community, as I’ve experienced with the Las Vegas Art Museum, doesn’t support it—if you’ve only got one one-hundredth of one percent supporting that museum—you may not have an art community here. However, you do have a performing-arts community. My idea—because Las Vegas is very comfortable with performance and music and dance and great shows—is to try to mix the two together harmoniously.

How do you know when you want a piece of art?

It doesn’t go to the mind, the intellectual or the academic. It has to hit me in the pit of my stomach. If it’s a painting, and I see that luscious brushstroke, and if they know how to really work paint, I’m all about it. Then I can go over to a very, very serene monochromatic work that’s ultramarine blue. Then I can go to a William Wiley sculpture that I have in the living room, this funky-ass sculpture that I have to put together every time I move. It doesn’t matter. It just always makes me feel good when I’m around it.

Who are your favorite Las Vegas-based artists?

My gosh, there are some great ones here. I’m entranced and in love with Tim Bavington, with Shawn Hummel, with RC Wonderly. David Ryan also is an incredible, unique artist. I gotta tell you, many of our—and I can’t remember their names, I’m ashamed to say—UNLV grads are fabulous. And get up off your butts, get over to LVA and look at what they’re doing, because you’re going to be shocked. I’m still shocked over it.

I could go on. I could give you a list that could choke a horse.