Compiled by Katherine Fernelius
When was the last time you saw good art? For me, it was just days ago. I know you’ve heard this from me before, but it doesn’t make it less true. More and more galleries are opening, more talent is being shown around the city, and as this trend continues, the community continues to grow and unite. It is amazing to see and feel a part of this art movement.
For our Summer Arts Guide, I decided to focus on a downtown gallery that is committed to showing excellent art and participating in the growth of the Las Vegas art scene and community. I encourage you to not only visit the gallery, but to learn more about the owner; I can assure you, you will not be disappointed.
Amanda Harris, owner, Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art
When did your gallery open?
We first opened our doors in late November 2011. The gallery was originally built to showcase the works of Wess Dahl-Berg, who had moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles to paint the Nocturnal Landscapes, images of the desert at night. We left the windows to the street covered to preserve the paintings and to control the lighting. In July 2012, Dahl-Berg’s show ended and by September 2012, the windows were uncovered and we had our second show, “Pop, Locked and Loaded” by local artists Juan Muniz and Dillon Boy.
“My favorite part of the Las Vegas arts scene is the sense of community. We get so much support from other gallery owners, artists and others…”
What made you want to open the Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art?
It’s always been my dream to have my own gallery. I studied art history in college in Boston. I spent my junior year abroad in Florence, where my focus was on Renaissance art throughout Italy and Europe. I returned to Italy after graduating. To improve my Italian, I audited art history classes at the local university, Universita’ di Firenze. Throughout my travels and my studies, visiting museums and learning about local art has always been a priority. When I moved to Las Vegas in 2007, I had hoped to work in a museum. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an option, but the idea of owning my own gallery never left me. I started talking about it a lot with Sam Cherry, who is into contemporary art and design, and Michael Vakneen, who was raised in Los Angeles by his art-dealer mother. Through Michael’s mom, we met Dahl-Berg and decided to turn the empty space in Soho lofts into a gallery. Even though I’ve wanted this since high school (I fell in love with art when I saw a picture of Florence’s Duomo during my first art history class), the gallery itself happened very organically.
Does your gallery have a specific philosophy or focus?
There are so many artists out there, so our priority is showing work by those who are doing something unique. I have to love the work as well, which is completely subjective. It’s also a priority to show artists who we believe will spend their lives making work, so that they will develop and grow. We’ll show local artists or those from out of state, as long as it’s something we feel connected to. With the Lady Silvia next door to the gallery, it lends itself to being a place where people can view art, and then go next door and have a drink and discuss it with others. I want the shows we do to be provocative and to challenge the viewers. We’ve had five shows so far, and we’re planning several more shows and events that we hope will continue to spark dialogue.
What has been your favorite show at the gallery?
From November 2012 through January 2013, we showed “Success,” by Los Angeles street artist Benjamin Alejandro. Alejandro’s work is youthful, bright and urban. On top of that, he is a very humble and kind person and it was so much fun to give him the chance to put together his first solo gallery show. Though he lives in Los Angeles, his mom lives here in Vegas, and when she came to the show it was the first time she was exposed to this part of his life. She was shocked to see a photograph of a billboard in Los Angeles that he had graffiti’d. It was hilarious! We’re planning another show with him at the end of the year.
What’s been your favorite show in Las Vegas?
I was really impressed by Miguel Rodriguez’ show at Trifecta Gallery in 2011. He’s a talented sculptor, and I enjoy his work. Also, I’m loving the Koons’ “Tulips” at the Wynn right now.
What’s your favorite part of being a part of the Las Vegas arts scene?
My favorite part of the Las Vegas arts scene is the sense of community. We get so much support from other gallery owners, artists and others who come to our shows and special events. I also love that there are new galleries and studios opening up right now. It’s great to see so much action and to be part of the growth.
What’s one thing people may not know about the Las Vegas arts scene?
Preview Thursday is still under the radar, but it’s a lot of fun. The night before First Friday the galleries stay open late. It’s a good chance to come downtown, experience all of the art and fun (we have food trucks out front and live music or DJ’s, for example), but without the crowds of First Friday. This is definitely a hidden gem in the arts district.