McQueen of Art
VEGASMAMA: Michele C. Quinn
Tess McGill left a deep impression on teenaged Michele C. Quinn. Tennis shoes over pantyhose, a statement necklace over a blouse and a woman doing things her way; breaking the boundaries that were set before her profession, for generations. Every summer a young Michele would visit her beloved Aunt Barbara in Staten Island and she watched that ferry chug in & out of The Rock (as locals called their cherished island) to Manhattan, she envisioned herself as Melanie Griffith taking the city by blonde chignon storm.
This was her future. And she knew it.
Fast forward thirty-something years later to Michele sitting with her co-conspirators of fine art, guiding mythical real-life art heroes & art patrons, advising collections in the hundreds of millions, sitting in bars & conference rooms with the greats of our visual world all with a flair of the humbled virtue that is a culmination of talent, class and perseverance; she truly is a manifestation of her own destiny. It’s all so very simple for Michele Quinn, it’s all so beautiful but not without a little blood, sweat and sweet, sweet passion.
Don’t be fooled by the East Coast references, this woman is a tried & true Las Vegan. Born in New York but raised here since she was five-years old, an Our Lady of Las Vegas & Bishop Gorman alumna, Michele’s father was a cardiologist and co-founder of Sierra Health Services/HPN. Michele remembers walks to The Meadows Mall and getting kicked out for loitering; aaaah, the wonderland of youth! They were teenage desert dwellers, drove cars into the anonymous, flat desertscape that is now Summerlin, cruised Fremont Street in her neighbor's wood-paneled station wagon, said hello to Vegas Vic and ice-cream was always an all night social endeavor.
This chick was a rocker. By seventh & eighth grade they were traveling to nondescript Vegas clubs, nameless warehouses and Pinollas on Industrial Ave; they saw punk legends Agent Orange, Social Distortion, M.I.A., Black of Flag, even The Ramones, etc... "Vegas was an under-the-radar hotbed for national punk tours," she tells me. Michele’s brother’s own band, Self Abuse, played at her eighth grade graduation party. By her senior year the late Vegas local legend Todd Sampson & Lance Gilman of Samson’s Army played her backyard many times including her 16th birthday party. Keep in mind, these were the days before social media, texting, pinning & email. No, wait, these were the days before cell phones and fax machines! The days where the letter-sized, hand-drawn party invitations were printed on color paper with an illustrated keg/mohawk/speakers+mic on the front with a hand-drawn map of “party here” on the back; all hail the X-marks-the-spot jackpot of the Kinko's pirate’s booty discovery! Many times Michele’s home was that Friday night’s loot; even then she recognized talent and had a knack from bringing it all together. Decades later she'd host The Art of Las Vegas Hardcore, all those handmade flyers from her Vegas punk past exhibited in her own gallery (the flyers were even collected by UNLV's Special Collections archive), not mention her exhibition of Black Flag's punk illustrating legend Raymond Pettibon earlier this season.
Thereafter, Michele left her punk family in the Mojave and sailed into the beach community of San Diego. With aspirations of being a fine artist, painting called her name but she soon realized her talent was better utilized studying Art History and Business at USD. She picked up a job for $5./hour at then known La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, now MCASD, where she was first introduced to the thrill of the Art Curator’s inside view; she watched as they opened crates of art, her jaw-dropped as she saw one of David Hammons first major museum exhibitions and was captivated as Richard Long worked on his Mud Wall Drawings...all from her receptionist's desk & all in front of her Freshman eyes. A very perceptive Michele knew this would be her life’s work, after all, she had always surrounded herself with eccentric expressionism and this was the perfect path. Some twenty years later it seemed only appropriate Michele would again work with Richard Long on his City Center commissioned pieces, but this time Michele was the woman in charge…not the $5/hour ticket taker.
Admitted into NYU’s Steinhardt Grad School, Michele pursued a degree in Arts Administration and, during an era when most didn't know the difference between Apple & PC, Michele garnered valuable computer knowledge working hourly at a lawyer's firm. Thanks to those ahead-of-her-time skills she then landed a coveted internship with the prestigious and downright legendary Leo Castelli Gallery. Michele worked under her friend and mentor, Jodi Dady, with whom she still shares a close working relationship today. This was 1992 and Michele remembers Mr. Leo Castelli in all his suited finest, the Warholian portraits of the art legend and describes the late great as “a classic Italian gentleman.”
“It was an unpaid position but I was so happy to sweep the floors, answer the phones, anything to be in that space” she tells me. And boy, was it worth it. “Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Serra were a part of the gallery.” Serra’s Paintstik pieces “hit me in the gut” as Michele describes the feeling of seeing his work for the first time, Serra was also the first piece she collected in her now expansive art collection. Herbert & Dorothy Vogel, the late working-man’s-art-collecting-heroes who amassed a fortune from their postal worker & librarian’s salary, visited often. Michele wrote her Master’s Thesis on “Percent for Art,” a program for her hometown of Las Vegas to donate 1% of construction developments to invest in and showcase fine art. Long may this woman manifest her own destiny.
By 1994 she found a position with Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl, an invitation-only print publishing powerhouse who collaborated with all the contemporary art greats; Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Bruce Naumen, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg, to name a few. Michele found herself in Washington celebrating Gemini’s 25th anniversary at The National Gallery of Art after-party, sitting with her boss, Ms. Weyl, and all the greats they represented. Sitting at a bar. Together. Michele tells me, “it was like I was just plucked out and placed there, I was just happy to be a fly on the wall let alone sit with them at a table!” Then, outta nowhere, “up pops Rauschenberg from the table on a mission to play the bar’s piano, he starts humming a tune, and sings a song about crickets!” Oh, how I’d love to be an olive in someone’s martini that night, so many art luminaries under one roof is what dreams are made of…except that was no dream for Michele, this was her reality.
In true McQueen of Art fashion, Michele went on to earn an MBA of Finance and Marketing from Fordham University and enjoyed a stint at Christie’s Auction House as Vice President/Senior Advisor Print Specialist; but the art gallery world was calling her soul so she became Director at Brooke Alexander, Inc.; “growth, mentorship & absorption” were the words she used to describe these four years.
Always the thinker, this native Las Vegan turned NYC Art Dealer decided to host an art party in her hometown. All the Who’s Who of Vegas were there, cocktails were served and Michele presented Johns, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Kelly and many, many others. The presentation fell on deaf ears, this was 2002 and Vegas hadn’t quite become the art mecca it’s becoming today. One thing came out of it, though, an invited guest yet not present at the event, then President and CFO of Mandalay Resort Group, Glenn Schaeffer, contacted Michele a few weeks later. He had received her Kinko's-copied, spiral-bound presentation she had snail-mailed. This changed everything.
“I’ll give you $20k for a budget, what art should I buy?” This was Schaeffer’s test and Michele knew it. She did her job diligently, intelligently, presented him options; the deal was made.
Then another deal was made, but on a much larger scale.
Aunt Barbara was the first person Michele called from the casino floor right afterwards. It was a life-changing offer wrapped up in a nonchalant package. “I could do it for you,” she said. “Let’s do it,” he said. Mr. Schaeffer had thrown around the idea of an art space inside Mandalay Bay and, before Michele knew the reality of what just happened, she excitedly told her Aunt “I think I just committed to moving back to Vegas!”
Godt-Cleary Gallery inside Mandalay Bay was born, Mr. Schaeffer created the name, it meant “good clean art” and was way before its time. Michele had carte blanche to run it the way she wanted, even launched with an Ed Ruscha exhibition that, as she puts it, “you can’t find this inventory anymore, I’d be a rockstar, I’d hit it out of the park…it’d be THAT impossible.” There was a learning curve to the Vegas art world, “it needed to be off the strip, minimalism did not work and the interest was more local based, not based on tourist activity.”
Michele built a massive collection with Schaeffer and Godt-Cleary needed a new space as they needed storage so Michele moved into what’s now The Majestic Theater on Main Street. She could store the 300-500 pieces they had collected, exhibit new shows and run her team from a vantage point appreciated & easily accessed by the masses, “just to show the work, gifting the pieces and make these available to all, build the audience within the locals and to raise awareness of the art amongst us.” This was her goal. To educate, exhibit, create a community and to expose the blank stares she so vividly remembers from that failed Who’s Who cocktail party.
She opened with a John McCracken Red Totem and a James Turrell red corner projection. Two pieces. No more. “Where’s the art?” some would cockily say as they walked into the gallery, shake their heads and walk out. A matter of time, Michele would always think to herself, just keep on exhibiting, a matter of time.
“Do you know Dennis Hopper?” preeminent dealer James Corcoran asked Michele.
“Well, I know his acting. I’ve seen his photographs in passing,” answered Michele,
“has he ever had a show?” she inquired.
“No,” replied Jim, “let me introduce you, see what happens.”
And it happened. Michele found herself with Hopper in his Los Angeles home, picking out photographs and works to exhibit. She later found herself sitting with Hopper at a bar in Mandalay Bay, they had met in the lobby and she took him for a drink. It was 2004 and he smoked a cigar. To this day, it was the most comprehensive exhibition of Hopper’s artwork, photographs were shown at Mandalay and his billboard pieces were installed downtown.
Michele + artists + bars, this feels like an inspirational quote or a “walked into a bar” joke…doesn’t it? But this is her incredibly awe-inspiring life.
Tim Bavington was also a first, back in 2006, we all know he’s earned international Art Star status since that premier exhibition in Las Vegas Michele hosted eleven years ago. Bavington, our local hero is circling back around, Sounds of Silence is up now and, of course, exhibiting at Michele’s namesake gallery. Go see it! Below photos are from Sounds of Silence reception at MCQ Fine Art on 11/8/2017, click here for more opening night photos.
A constant theme in Michele’s life is she keeps moving forward, never settles for mediocre and is always brainstorming ways to advance herself, those around her and the art/culture world in general. Case in point, Michele incorporated herself as a Private Art Advisor a couple years before the market tanked. Yes, she still ran Godt-Cleary but she was taking on a larger role with her private clients and advising their personal acquisitions.
And then she heard about MGM’s newest and most ambitious project on the news, local architecture firm Pelli Clarke Pelli was in charge. “I heard you’re working on City Center, how do I put a pitch in, how do I get in front of that?” she asked her friend Fred W. Clarke of Pelli Clarke Pelli.
Michele and her assistant at the time, Ryan Spencer, spent weeks on the proposal and submitted it to Jim Murren on a wish and a prayer. “I had never put together something that big, it was the first time and I advised them to spend 1% of their budget on art, 30 MILLION dollars for art…I hoped they’d just do something, do something, get something good in there; art, design, culture!” she tells me. The waiting game was rough, it had been months. It was 2006 and Michele was feeling out of place and at a stand-still, in one month she thought she’d have to move back to NYC to stay in the art world. Then Bobby Baldwin’s office called and everything changed. Again.
All the head honchos were brought in for Michele's one-chance proposal, Boss Board luminaries at their finest:
Jim Murren, then CFO of MGM, currently CEO; Bobby Baldwin, MGM’s COO; Sven Van Assche, MGM’s VP of Design & Architecture and Gary N. Jacobs, MGM’s Head of Counsel.
The time has come, she thought. Michele presented her ideas. Immediately impressed, they doubled her budget to 60 million during their first meeting (which was later cut to $40million as construction progressed, still a huge success at $10million over her proposal). Can you imagine the fate of it all? Michele was considering moving back to NYC so she could survive and, within those final thirty days, one of the biggest art projects in the country came knocking. “We were there at the right time, the art world hadn’t gotten as insane as it is now. The same collection would now require double the amount of money. In fact, we’ve turned down double the amount we paid in purchase offers in order to keep the collection; it’s not generic artwork. It’s not about the money but I advised them it’s fiscally responsible as a company to invest in this artwork, now they’ve doubled their assets,” she tells me, I’m totally enthralled as City Center is an artwork epicenter all its own not to mention it’s one of the largest corporate/public fine art collections in The United States. And it’s right in our own backyard.
Michele advised the City Center Board that sculpture should be their main focus. “We asked ourselves who are the best sculptors of our time? We wanted multigenerational artists & appeal, we started with Henry Moore then built through the generations to Claus Oldenburg and Maya Lin, etc.” Michele led their meetings, it was a fluid process even though they considered hundreds of artists. “They were very focused, very astute,” she tells me, “I was especially impressed by Bobby Baldwin. Here’s this top-notch executive who doesn’t go to museums much and brilliant in so many ways, incredibly intuitive and very decisive. He knew what would work and what wouldn’t, he could hone in on the artwork like a pro. It was an amazing experience to watch them go through this process, it was very clear cut.”
Artist John Chamberlain was proposed at the meeting and Baldwin immediately vetoed the work, “No, I’ve crashed too many cars in my life and that’s just bad memories!” Michele laughs as she tells me “it was a visceral, honest & true reaction. So we crossed that one off our list.” Michele has a fabulous, infectious laugh.
The $40 million artwork collection she acquired for City Center required an eighteen month installation time and warranted its fair share of hiccups. “Integrating art installation into construction is challenging and it’s so important to get the timing right, imagine putting a $3 million sculpture in the middle of a construction zone!” Henry Moore’s Reclining Connected Forms was heavy, heavier than the under-development driveway and walkway could handle. “Once it was successfully placed in the park I had them build a little house around it, an upside-down crate, just to make sure it was safe during all that construction!” says Michele.
"...putting a $3 million sculpture in the middle of a construction zone!"
Michele proceeds to tell me that Nancy Rubin, creator the canoe bouquet Big Edge “is in her seventies at this point with her red lipstick and wild bun, she creates her sculptures on-site and it’s this beautiful, organic process…she had her team up on this huge platform that we built for her and they were literally climbing up on this thing, cherry picking exactly where Nancy wanted them to place the canoes; she’d tell them ‘lower, higher, left, right.’ I envision Nancy Rubin as the Maestra and her assistants as her orchestra, sticks in hand moving to the rhythm of her creation as workers follow her every ebb & flow.
The Seven Magic Mountains, a VEGASMAMAS’ favorite, had Michele serve on the local Advisory Board. During that time Michele attended a fundraiser where mini Magic Mountains were on sale for $3.5k/set; Michele advised everyone to buy them. Some did. A year later that same set is selling for +$20k. An Art Advisor she is, indeed, hello almost six times return on your investment.
Top to bottom, left to right; Nancy Rubin's Big Edge observing the handling of Franks Stella's Damascus Gate Variation (now suspended over Vdara’s reception desk); Installation day for Henry Moore's Reclining Connected Forms (located in the park between Aria & Crystals); Michele's daughter, Jackson, in the rain with Yayoi Kusama at Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum; Ugo Rondinone's The Seven Magic Mountains and Jackson; detail images of Michele's office at MCQ Fine Arts & Advisory on 7th Street featuring mini Magic Mountains.
Currently Michele is on the Board of The Art Museum at Symphony Park, a trailblazing idea that will bring a big city art space to our big city town. “It is so critical for Las Vegas to grow in any way, shape or form and this would bring awareness; you build the museum and the museum will, in turn, help build the ancillary businesses around it. It’s about creating the foundation from which to grow, I’m so extremely passionate about this project.” VEGASMAMAS loves the idea of going to the Museum during the day and seeing a show at The Smith Center at night with weekend jaunts for the children to Discovery Children’s Museum, all while enjoying the epicenter of Symphony Park with Tim Bavington’s Pipe Dream its anchor. A true gift, an art destination for all ages, all mediums, all passions.
The thing about Michele is she’ll bust out these HUGE revelations/projects with such avant-garde blasé reference, at times I’ll ask her, “Wait…Are you serious?!”. She’ll just laugh, that fabulous laugh, and tell me “of course!” Perhaps it’s from her spending so much time with the most famous artists in all the world? It’s all very normal. But it’s all very, very huge.
“I’m currently working on an outdoor installation project in San Francisco with Yayoi Kusama,” Michele tells me. “We bought a sculpture and are working with HINES, an International Developer because, of course, they’re required to put in a certain amount of their budget into a public art piece. It’ll be a permanent installation and we’re designing the plaza around her sculpture.” Just like that, at the end of our time together, she drops this red-wigged, polka-dotted, pattern-forward, incredibly relevant art bomb. My mouth is agape. I dressed as Yayoi for Halloween 2017, people recognized me; she’s a big deal.
And then the second art bomb goes off, literally as I’m running out the door to pick up my son, I ask her, “Michele, you know Jenny Holzer, right? I love her installation at Aria’s valet pick-up!” She proceeds to tell me, and this is something that has just now gone public and VEGASMAMAS is the first to report it, that she’s working with Holzer on a major project at Hoover Dam. If you’re not familiar with her work it’s projected, large-scale, sight specific light installations usually incorporating color &/or text. Absolutely mesmerizing. Can you imagine this on something as large, out of context and so old-school-concrete-cool as The Hoover Dam? “Jenny is so pleasant, so kind, I’m really lucky to say she even gives me the time of day. She’s so gracious, no errs about her and working with her is such a pleasure,” Michele tells me. Their biggest challenge, as of now, is technology but that’s only a matter of time, "Jenny's team is the best of the best, they'll figure out a solution."
Did I mention that Michele is incredibly humble? Once I heard her interviewed by Dave Becker on NPR and he said something like, “so we have you to thank for all the art on The Strip” and she ever so politely and oh-so kindly took the compliment but moved forward by saying it’s the artists who are responsible and she’s just grateful to be doing what she loves. A class act.
And then the third art bomb is dropped, this is literally the last ten minutes of our time together and she's already blown my mind so many times. "I'm also working with Steven Molasky on a non-profit, multi-level, multi-signage installation on The Strip as a part of the Smart Initiative Jenny Holzer project for which we're currently fundraising. We hope to have a multi-venue installation from the Hoover Dam, The Strip and also create a Downtown installation." Vegas culture is on the rise, MAMAS, and it's only getting more interesting, awe-inspiring and community oriented.
Through all of this action & professional ascension, Michele met her husband Mark Andelbradt, Chef of Wolfgang Puck's Fine Dining, when he was a chef at Morimoto in New York City. Their paths crossed again at Las Vegas' NVCI gala and history was made. While living briefly in Villanova, PA, they created their greatest creation of all, 7-year old daughter, Jackson. Currently in first grade, she loves to draw & sculpt & write her MAMA love notes, collect dolls of strong female characters (Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, Zooey Deschanel's Bridget from Troll's), has William Wegman prints in her bathroom (the Weimaraners spell out her initials) and is known to sell cider on the corner of her Old Vegas neighborhood. Mark takes herbs & greens from his organic garden to Puck's and jokes his garden dies when he travels for business, thanks in part to Michele who doesn't have an ounce of green in either thumb (her lack of gardening skills is eclipsed by everything else she does so well!).
From an outsider’s perspective, what Michele does sounds complex but, really, it’s rather simple. We've talked about corporate collections but she also helps the individual/couple; the everyday collector, the generations-deep collector, the novice collector or the December collector. “I love to match a person to artworks. The scariest thing for collectors, new or seasoned, is they don’t know if they’re getting the right deal. I pride myself on being honest and transparent, an open book, and I like to keep it very simple. My job is to make sure you get the right deal, not just a deal, but the right deal.”
"...not just a deal, but the right deal.”
Michele C. Quinn is certainly is taking this by blonde chignon storm, she’s earned the VEGASMAMAS’ coined name McQueen of Art and we can’t wait what she gives us next. Thank you, Michele, for bringing so much culture, beauty and awareness to our fare city; we are more illuminated because of you.
VEGASMAMAS thanks you, McQueen of Art.
VEGASMAMAS is inspired by you, McQueen of Art.
VEGASMAMAS loves you, Michele!
for more information, visit Michele C. Quinn Fine Art Advisory
extra-special shout-out to Michele's Executive Assistant, Diana Cosio, you were there when we needed you, you filled in the blanks and you delivered immediately. VEGASMAMAS loves you, too, Arty Diana!