Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor

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Unity. Three sixty-foot towers of stainless steel greet visitors to the MGM Grand National. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Unity. Three sixty-foot towers of stainless steel greet visitors to the MGM Grand National

Large public spaces often have art “collections” that are slapdash, ill coordinated, or placed simply to fill up available space—an “art by the square foot” approach. So, in viewing the Heritage Collection of artworks at the MGM National Harbor resort, I was delighted to see an assemblage of harmonized works that cover a spectrum of materials and messages—from grand, to quirky, to playful to enigmatic. And many of the pieces express some of the resort’s major themes: local and monumental.

Lucky for me, I was on a press trip that included a thorough tour of the Heritage pieces hosted by Mark Myers, the owner of Atlantic Arts, who curated the selection and placement of almost all of the complex’s artworks, a process that took over two years. “I worked directly with Jim Murren, the CEO, on concept and intent for the collection,” says Myers. “As we narrowed the selections, Jim reviewed every piece. During the last few months, there was almost daily interaction with the construction team regarding the logistics of shipment, handling, and installations of both the framed artwork and the sculptures.”

Going back to that “monumental” concept, some of the sculptures Myers refers to aren’t shrinking violets. Take the one that’s in your face (in pleasing way) right in the entry to the National Harbor: John Safer’s “Unity,” a series of three 60-foot-tall spiraling shafts of stainless steel, polished in some areas, satin in others, striking in all. Safer is one of many local artists whose work comprises the collection. Oh yeah—he’s also 90 years old and still working—maybe the best is yet to come. 

Whirlpools. An intricate nexus of folded and curved aluminum plates suggests dynamic movement. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Whirlpools. An intricate nexus of folded and curved aluminum plates suggests dynamic movement

Another of the outdoor pieces (right off the VIP entrance) that’s no lightweight is “Whirlpools,” the New York–based artist Alice Aycock’s interpretation of the movement of waters and winds. Considering that the MGM National Harbor sits smack dab off the Potomac, waters and winds needed to get their due. 

Getting Down and Dirty

You won’t miss the monumentality of Margaret Boozer’s “Harbor,” because it will tower over you when you go to the front desk. Boozer, whose local company is called Red Dirt Studio, isn’t kidding about her enthusiasm for dirt. She used 10,000 pounds of soil and clay from the National Harbor’s construction site to put together this map of the region. I’m not even going to complete the “it’s a dirty job” joke here—this is a soulful, expressive piece, as local as local gets. (This piece was sourced by art consultant Susan Kroll of RARECulture.)

Harbor. Earth is the medium for the magic of this interpretive map of the National Harbor’s geography. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Harbor. Earth is the medium for the magic of this interpretive map of the National Harbor’s geography

Another piece with serious scope is Katherine Mann’s “Forest,” a 65’ by 10’ frolic of color. Mann painted the detail work of the piece on a lift when she was 8 months pregnant. Artists are crazy in the best of ways.

Forest. A frolic of form and color, Katherine Mann’s work invites near and far inspection. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Forest. A frolic of form and color, Katherine Mann’s work invites near and far inspection

The resort has many absorbing pieces from local artists of DC’s Washington Color School fame, such as Sam Gilliam and Madeleine Keesing, mounted on the walls of the broad walkways leading into the varied venues of the resort complex. And some of the art interrupts those walkways: it’s hard not to notice the gleaming marine-grade stainless-steel pieces by Chinese artist Liao Yibai: “Fighting Cash” depicts known badass boxer Benjamin Franklin defending his 100-dollar bill from Chairman Mao, springing from his 100-yuan note. That a casino isn’t very far away isn’t an accident.

Fighting Cash. Benjamin Franklin and Chairman Mao duke it out for the dough. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Fighting Cash. Benjamin Franklin and Chairman Mao duke it out for the dough

Cinderella in Steel

Stainless footwear also catches the eye when you see Yibai’s “Cinderella Shoe.” The placement just outside of Sarah Jessica Parker’s first retail shop, SJP, ain’t coincidental. Artwork placement in the Heritage Collection should be applauded, because the works are positioned to best exploit and explore the light, space and context of their environment. These pieces feel so much more than mere decoration.

Cinderella Shoe. Wearing these substantial shoes, Cinderella probably sat most dances out. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Cinderella Shoe. Wearing these substantial shoes, Cinderella probably sat most dances out 

And some of the upscale suites get in on the artwork as well. This wall art from one of the resort’s Presidential Suites is the work of Ron Beverly, another local artist. His efforts are visible in a big way in the expansive lobby areas, where his “Cherry Blossoms” wall coverings grace the walls. His artwork also adorns the large pillows in many of the suites.

Ron Beverly. Large and small examples of Ron Beverly’s work can be seen on suite and resort complex walls. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Ron Beverly. Large and small examples of Ron Beverly’s work can be seen on suite and resort complex walls

Myers is confident that the collection expresses the artistic mission of the resort: “We were seeking a collection that would interest international visitors as well as local residents and would celebrate the diversity of Washington, Baltimore, and mid-Atlantic artistic expression by including a range of prominent, mid-career and emerging artists from the area. I certainly like to think we covered that range in our selection of artists, media, and scale of works.”

Mark Myers stands in front of Ken Young's "Spring Rain." From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Mark Myers stands in front of Ken Young's "Spring Rain"

That range is suggested by some pieces that are just plain fun: there are a series of “infinity tunnels” called “The Wells” by Chul Hyun that are on the floor; when you step over them and look down, the angled lights create a dizzying depth effect; the image doesn’t quite capture the feeling. And yes folks, it’s all done with mirrors.

The Wells. People step cautiously over the convincing but illusionary light wells on the resort floor. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
The Wells. People step cautiously over the convincing but illusionary light wells on the resort floor

One Man’s Scrap Is Another Man’s Portal

Oh, we can’t forget that a recent Nobel Prize-winner, Bob Dylan, also has a commissioned piece in a prominent spot. Called “Portal,” Dylan’s scrap metal/industrial artifact/found objects aggregation is a striking mélange of old tools, metalwork and junkyard scrap. Portal is the main threshold through which you pass into the resort’s casino, and it’s 25’w x 15’h intricacy is worth many closer looks.

Bob Dylan’s “Portal” makes music in metal. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Bob Dylan’s “Portal” makes music in metal

Every time I wandered through the wide expanses of the MGM, I had a new appreciation for the scope and emotional color of the Heritage Collection. Myers said they may add some pieces (or exhibit the existing ones at other MGMs) from time to time, but what’s there now is choice.

Mark Myers points out a compositional detail in Robert Kelley's "In Principio." From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
Mark Myers points out a compositional detail in Robert Kelly's "In Principio"

Oh yeah—there are a couple of Rauschenbergs in the casino as well, in case you ever look up from your cards … 

One of Robert Rauschenberg’s multi-dimensional pieces rests in a lounge area right off the resort casino. From Artworks from the Wonderful to the Whimsical: The Heritage Collection at MGM National Harbor
One of Robert Rauschenberg’s multi-dimensional pieces rests in a lounge area right off the resort casino

 

Learn more: https://www.mgmnationalharbor.com/en.html

 

Tom Bentley is a fiction writer, a business writer and editor, an essayist, and a travel writer. (He does not play banjo.) He's published hundreds of freelance pieces—ranging from first-person essays to travel pieces to more journalistic subjects—in newspapers, magazines, and online. His self-published book on finding and cultivating your writer's voice, Think Like a Writer: How to Write the Stories You See was published in 2015. See his lurid website confessions and writing-life blog at www.tombentley.com. He would like you to pour him a Manhattan right at five.

Photos courtesy and copyright Tom Bentley

 

 

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