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Immersive Art Experiences in Las Vegas: Screensavers by Any Other Name



Immersive Art Experiences in Las Vegas: Screensavers by Any Other Name


Mythology is an umbrella beneath which you can put all manner of bull. On one hand, gravitas, legacy, tradition, respect as a shorthand. On the other, lies, inflated ego, hot air, misinformation. Las Vegas has always been written about as straddling these two dualities, a place that isn’t a place, somewhere worth earnestly waxing poetic about because the idea of anyone taking it seriously grants a weird authenticity to all earnest statements about it. My home is treated as if it is somehow always being rediscovered or recreated, revitalized or reclaimed, the narrative around it shifts like dye in milk. What this means for enterprising CEOs, property developers, and investors is not the same as what it means for the people who live here. Both parties see opportunity, but only one sees that venture through the exploitation of an instantly recognizable, yet malleable “brand” such as Vegas. That is the tension, or at least one of them, pervading the art produced in, about, or for this city. It is the tension that pervades what masquerades as art produced in, about, and for this city. 

Which is one way of saying that, alongside the landing of the expensive, bespoke, but somehow cheap-feeling Meow Wolf in AREA15 “immersive playground” off the Strip, other exhibitions, namely one of the approximately 10,000 Van Gogh immersive experiences, have hit the city in a big way. They’ve similarly hit several major cities, a rush of new, profitable entertainment ventures that claim to offer erudition and spectacle, but mostly fun. One of the more prominent, but understandable knee-jerk reactions to this over the last couple years has been from art industry veterans, museum diehards, public works apologists, who see the next Klimt Immersive Experience as something that fundamentally cheapens the experience of interacting with and appreciating art. 

I don’t fully disagree with them, but it’s less the concept of watching a pixelated image of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night projected onto a warehouse wall (though there is that) than it is the massive, nakedly capitalistic windfall this presents for the people behind these exhibits. Vegas welcomes this so there’s no hypocrisy happening here. Kitsch and high fashion, camp and severity, the dichotomy between these things, here, exists in placement, rather than opposition. Any legacy Strip casino will have plenty of each, zirconium chandeliers and oversized stilettos, inches away from one another. There is rarely the sense that the person staging such a scene wasn’t acutely aware of what they were doing and what those objects might do to the person who sees them. Vegas preens itself to the music of grandiosity, frivolity, excess, a knowing, exasperated look of disappointment and recognition simultaneously, because this is where people go to take seriously the act of being unserious. That is why, for all its expense and pomp, Vegas can never be accused of actually being pretentious. 

The people behind AREA15, the two current Van Gogh exhibits, one of which is within AREA15 (they alternate a Gustav Klimt experience in the same room) and the other at the Shops at Crystals next to the Aria Hotel, and Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart (also inside AREA15) could stand to learn about the city they’ve set up shop in. In the months before and during its construction, stark black-and-white billboards popped up around the city advertising an intentionally vague and thus intriguing something called AREA15. The play on Area 51 was legible to everyone, not just Nevada residents, but what it actually was couldn’t be discerned. There was genuine excitement in the months when these signs hovered over the highways around the black block of concrete where the facility was being built, something modern, something weird, bespoke, fresh, new.

1642846559 927 Immersive Art Experiences in Las Vegas Screensavers by Any Other

Both Van Gogh exhibits boast eclectic soundtracks, which feature quiet music turned up to deafening volume, though the one at the Shops at Crystals has a mind for letting the viewer look at the paintings on the wall rather than make them dance like the one at AREA15. I’m partial to Klimt, but the same lack of faith in a spectator’s attention recurred during that experience as well. The artist’s sketches turned to neon graffiti, flying portraits made to look like cut canvas circling the room, glimpses and flashes of complete works never fully made visible, all projected within constantly changing computer-generated prosceniums that emulated Greco-Roman courtyards or ancient Italian ballrooms. The VIP tickets cost $45. I fell asleep halfway through. 

Elsewhere in AREA15, beyond the giant light-up tree and the axe-throwing bar, you can hear the screams of people riding the $18 combination zipline-roller coaster attached to the ceiling. There are VR stations where you can simulate flying like Superman and a gift shop that sells sequin dresses and lingerie, plus the Museum Fiasco room full of mirrors and strobe lights and EDM music (fun, actually) and the satellite of a local cafe owned by conservatives, there sits Omega Mart. It’s important to note that unlike the aforementioned jumble, Omega Mart takes up a clean, comparatively streamlined half of AREA15, a space claimed, territory marked. All other points of interest seem untamed and messy in comparison. 

Omega Mart bills itself as the reason to come to AREA15, an “astonishing” and “unpredictable” interactive experience of a grocery store from deep space, or ‘90s corporate America, that, because it’s from Meow Wolf, has a cheesy, but earnestly overwrought narrative, this one placing the participant in the role of a newly-hired store trainee who uncovers otherworldly secrets about the company. Meow Wolf’s co-founder and VP of something called experience design Corvas Brinkerhoff said in a Rolling Stone feature, “It’s a shopping mall for a new generation — a generation of people who value experience over possession. If AREA15 goes well, we might build 50 of them in the next 10 years.” The last part reads like a threat. 

Of course, the exaggerated marketing language shouldn’t be taken at face value and I doubt Meow Wolf expects anyone to either. But the meta aspect of Omega Mart, which endeavors to cheekily comment on toxic, striver work culture and greedy, exploitative companies obsessed only with selling as many units as possible, doesn’t allow Meow Wolf to successfully dodge the fact that, after a $55-per-person entry, and contrary to Brinkerhoff’s statement, you’re being invited into a place that begs you to spend even more money on its many bespoke products. 

The lasting effect of all this – the immersive experience, the endless scam of innovation that’s really glitzy capitalism, what Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek terms “radical subversion” – is loss. Loss of time, money, patience. By the time I left AREA15 and the Van Gogh experience, I didn’t feel outrage or indignation, just palpable ambivalence. Clearly, a lot of money is being spent on these projects, but it’s also hard to see what value is coming out of it.

In his essay collection No Man Is An Island, Thomas Merton writes, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” If those behind the growing number of immersive art exhibits weren’t deliberately drawing a parallel between their circus act and encounters with the real thing, I wouldn’t have much of an issue. These are experiences that invite people to be obsessed with the self rather than distanced from it. Perhaps, in other cities, meaningful and profound revelations are being had by spectators who just want to enjoy something pretty for an hour or two. It’s not so much the principle of the thing as it is what it’s being sold as. Put another way, Vegas has never made any bones about swindling people out of their money, or at the very least, correcting the larger-than-life narratives that purport such a thing to be true. So it’s refreshing and more than a little disconcerting to see the actual thing being done, but without any ounce of irony. 


Immersive Art Experiences in Las Vegas: Screensavers by Any Other Name


Who’s the best fit for Orlando Magic with No. 1 in 2022 draft?



Who’s the best fit for Orlando Magic with No. 1 in 2022 draft?

It didn’t take long for the Orlando Magic’s draft lottery celebration to turn into speculation.

Moments after the Magic won the draft lottery Tuesday in Chicago, questions quickly started to surround Orlando, the winner of the No. 1 pick in the June 23 NBA draft.

What will be the Magic’s approach to having the top pick?

Will their philosophy during the scouting combine and predraft machinations change?

Are they drafting based on need?

Jeff Weltman, president of basketball operations, made it clear they’re not going into the process looking to draft based off need.

“We’re at the stage right now where we’re not a need-based team,” Weltman said. “We’re looking for talent, character and guys who fit the way we want to play and the way we want to grow the team.”

Coach Jamahl Mosley echoed Weltman.

“It’s constantly adding the high basketball IQ, the competitiveness, the toughness, the fighter — the guy that’s willing to come in and work with this group of guys,” Mosley said. “Jeff and those guys do a phenomenal job of evaluating the talent, getting to know these guys over time and then we’ll go from there.”

Orlando has another month to decide what they’ll do with the No. 1 pick. Here are the three best fits for the Magic:

1. Jabari Smith (Auburn)

Height: 6-foot-10 | Weight: 220 pounds | Age: 19

Smith’s best offensive skill — shooting — is an area the Magic can improve.

Orlando’s 33.1% 3-point percentage during 2021-22 was the league’s third-worst mark and it’s been a bottom-five shooting team the past two seasons.

Taking Smith, who shot 42% from beyond the arc on 5.5 attempts during his lone season with the Tigers, would instantly help make life easier for the Magic’s playmakers in the halfcourt.

Smith isn’t just dangerous in spot-up situations. At 6-foot-10 with a high release point, he can shoot over defenders with ease from multiple areas of the floor without needing to create much of an advantage.

His size, length and athleticism make him a disruptive perimeter defender and someone who doesn’t have trouble switching across multiple positions.

Because of his shaky ballhandling and inconsistent interior scoring, there are concerns about whether Smith will develop into the go-to scorer/creator the Magic need. But Smith would be the cleanest fit in what Orlando already has started to build with its roster.

2. Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga)

Height: 7 feet | Weight: 195 pounds | Age: 20

Holmgren is arguably the most polarizing top college player in this year’s draft.

His combination of rim protection (3.7 blocks with the Bulldogs), handles, touch near the rim, basketball IQ and floor-spacing ability for his size (7 feet) make him one of the more distinctive prospects in a while.

Holmgren’s size, length and versatility — he’s light enough on his feet to guard on the perimeter — is a profile Orlando has shown an affinity for in previous drafts.

The Magic started two-big lineups with Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba, and Holmgren could be a seamless fit next to Carter in the frontcourt so they can maintain rim protection at all times, a core principle of Mosley’s defensive system.

There are significant concerns about how effective Holmgren can be in the post on both ends of the floor and as a finisher at the rim because of his skinny frame for his height. Holmgren’s outside jumper (39% on 3s with Gonzaga) would have to be consistent for him to be an offensive threat.

Holmgren’s potential is evident and he fits into what the Magic already have, but there are questions of whether he’ll maximize his skillset.

3. Paolo Banchero (Duke)

Height: 6-foot-10 | Weight: 250 | Age: 19

Banchero’s skillset coming out of Duke suggests he can be a go-to option at the next level.

With the Blue Devils, Banchero thrived in creating opportunities for himself and others off the dribble. He’s a versatile scorer who finished well around the rim because of his strength, footwork and touch.

Banchero is one of the better-passing top prospects (3.2 assists as a forward) who can serve as an offensive hub, which the Magic could use after having the league’s second-worst offensive rating in 2021-22.

His outside shooting (33.8% from beyond the arc) is an area he’ll need to improve.

Banchero also wasn’t consistently locked in as a defender at Duke and it’s not clear how switchable he’ll be at the next level.

This article first appeared on Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.


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Rookie Christopher Morel’s special moment pumps life into the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild plan: ‘It’s so cool’



Rookie Christopher Morel’s special moment pumps life into the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild plan: ‘It’s so cool’

If the Chicago Cubs could bottle moments like Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about people calling this a rebuild.

Christopher Morel’s bat-flipping celebration after homering in his first major-league at-bat, combined with Brandon Hughes’ five strikeouts in 1 ⅔ innings in his big-league debut, provided Cubs fans with hope the future might be brighter than imagined.

That’s what an infusion of youth can do.

“It just brings that energy, that new energy,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said before Wednesday’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “It’s having a good balance of both. We have so many good veteran guys around here now that bring the right energy from that side and that aspect.

“But seeing these young guys come up, kind of a deer-in-the-headlights (look) a little bit. They don’t know what to expect. They just go out and play and play so wholeheartedly and so natural. It’s just fun to see all that emotion come out of them.”

Morel was in the starting lineup at third base Wednesday, still flying from the electric moment in the eighth inning Tuesday. The 22-year-old call-up from Double-A Tennessee knew when he stepped up that Willson Contreras had homered in his first at-bat in 2016.

“I saw it on the scoreboard and I said to him, ‘Hey, I’m going to make my first at-bat a home run just like you,’ ” Morel said.

The moment the ball left the bat, Contreras jumped out of the dugout like the Cubs had won the pennant. It was an instant flashback to June 19, 2016, at Wrigley, when he homered in his first major-league at-bat on Father’s Day against the Pirates.

“It was amazing,” Contreras recalled Wednesday. “A good introduction for me in the big leagues.”

Justin Steele chimed in, recalling watching the shot six years ago when he pitched for Class A South Bend.

“Pretty sure me and Adbert (Alzolay) watched that home run together,” Steele told Contreras.

Morel’s homer sparked a wild reaction from the crowd at Wrigley, which already was on its feet for the 3-2 pitch. He performed a semi-moonwalk out of the box while flipping his bat for what he insisted was the first time in his career.

Really? His first-ever bat flip?

“Like this, yes,” he said. “Last year I hit a walk-off and I flipped my bat, but not like this.”

Morel became the ninth Cub to homer in his first major-league at-bat and the first since Contreras.

“I wasn’t thinking about it until it happened,” Hendricks said of the coincidence. “(Contreras) did it on the first pitch, of course. But we thought about it right away, especially Willson running out there giving him a hug. It was just an awesome, awesome moment for him. Going out there and doing that, it’s so cool to see things like that happen.”

Contreras said he was waiting for Morel to “do something positive, either a blooper or a base hit.”

Morel did something even better.

“Hitting a home run is pretty good,” Contreras said. “Almost nobody can do that in the big leagues.”

Manager David Ross called it a moment Cubs fans will always remember and said he and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy had “swelling” in their eyes.

“That’s what stories are made of, and I’ll never forget that,” Ross said. “It reminded me of Willson’s first at-bat, that emotion. And then I started laughing when he nearly missed first base, like Mark McGwire (after breaking the home run record).”

The Cubs were riding a wave entering Wednesday night’s game, with a four-game winning streak and Marcus Stroman scheduled to return to the mound Thursday after his COVID-19-related IL stint. Closer David Robertson was cleared to return from his COVID-related absence Wednesday.

Team President Jed Hoyer doesn’t want his plan labeled a “rebuild,” a term the Cubs embraced a decade ago before it became associated with another word — tanking.

But when kids such as Morel, Steele, Hughes and Keegan Thompson enjoy some success, “rebuild” doesn’t sound quite as offensive. Most Cubs fans, in fact, would prefer to watch unproven 22-year-olds develop at Wrigley than former prospects signed on the cheap or 30-something pitchers who can be moved at the trade deadline.

“We have a lot of good, young talent, and they are hungry,” Contreras said. “They bring a lot of positive energy around the clubhouse, which is always good to have.”

Hendricks and Contreras helped establish the winning culture on the North Side in their early years, and both said they hope the younger players understand they’re here to keep that culture alive.

“We’re trying to hold on to that,” Hendricks said. “And everybody that comes into this environment, we hope that’s what they feel.”


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Annabelle De St. Maurice: We’re losing the fight against superbugs, but there’s still hope



Annabelle De St. Maurice: We’re losing the fight against superbugs, but there’s still hope

As parents, we inherently want to protect our children. We tell them stories with happy endings and reassure them that there aren’t monsters hiding under the bed.

But there’s an enemy living among us that poses a fatal threat to kids and adults alike — and we’re simply not doing enough to stop it.

These enemies are “superbugs” — bacteria and fungi that are resistant to antibiotics and other medications. All microbes, from everyday bacteria to killer superbugs, are constantly evolving. And paradoxically, exposing microbes to antimicrobials — whether a common antibiotic for strep throat or a potent antifungal treatment given in the hospital — can make them stronger in the long run.

While most of the microbes die when treated, the ones that survive can reproduce. These new generations of microbes can build up resistance to certain antimicrobials, rendering some medications less effective or ineffective over time.

Unfortunately, this natural evolutionary process is speeding up for several reasons. We greatly overuse antibiotics in patients with viruses, like the flu, common colds and bronchitis — without benefit. And modern medical care has increased the demand for antibiotics. Advances in cancer care, organ transplants and surgeries such as hip and knee replacements have become much more common. These procedures can extend and improve life, but patients often require antimicrobials because they are at high risk of developing infections.

Bacteria are mutating at a speed that outpaces the development of antibiotics. Penicillin was discovered in 1941, but it wasn’t until 1967 that penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumococcus was first identified. By contrast, consider an antibiotic for multidrug-resistant bacteria released in 2015, called ceftazidime-avibactam. That same year a strain of bacteria emerged that was resistant to this new antibiotic.

Drug-resistant pathogens are one of the greatest healthcare threats of our time — for everyone, everywhere, including adults and children. More than 1.2 million people died worldwide from antibiotic-resistant infections in 2019 alone. Multidrug-resistant infections are on the rise in kids. More of these infections originate outside of our hospitals and within our communities.

Without effective antibiotics, run-of-the-mill pneumonia or skin infections can become life-threatening.

COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. Amid the widespread uncertainty and limited treatment options at the beginning of the pandemic, doctors often used antibiotics to treat COVID-19 patients as they tried to help them. Patients may also have been given antibiotics in instances in which it was difficult to distinguish between bacterial pneumonia, which requires antibiotics, and COVID-19.

Hospital stewardship programs — which manage the careful and optimal use of antimicrobial treatments — also had to redirect their limited resources away from antibiotic use to focus on the complex administration of COVID-19 therapeutics. And severely ill patients on ventilators were at a higher risk of contracting secondary infections, especially while their immune system was weakened.

These factors led to an increase in drug-resistant infections acquired in hospitals during the pandemic. Drug-resistant staph infections, MRSA, jumped 34% for hospitalized patients in the last quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

Prior to COVID-19, we made initial progress in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. In 2014, California was the first state to pass a law requiring antimicrobial stewardship programs in hospitals. In 2019, Medicare began requiring antibiotic stewardship programs.

Some modest federal investments have also been made in antimicrobial research and development, but not enough to generate the pipeline patients need. We must increase support for antimicrobial stewardship practices, which were under-resourced even before the pandemic. Teaching practitioners to safely use and monitor antimicrobial treatments is a significant step.

We also need to develop novel antimicrobial medicines capable of defeating the superbugs that have grown resistant to previous generations of treatments. But market incentives are misaligned. Because doctors prudently limit their use of antimicrobials to avoid further resistance, there isn’t high demand to sustain the development of new products, which take years of research and billions of dollars in investments.

As a result, many large biopharmaceutical companies have stopped antimicrobial research entirely. And many smaller startups have had success at first, only to face bankruptcy. That’s part of the reason why there have been few new classes of antibiotics developed in the last 35 years.

This is a textbook case of a market failure, but government intervention can help realign market incentives.

The PASTEUR Act is a bipartisan bill in Congress that would establish a payment model for critically needed antimicrobials.

Currently, the government pays manufacturers based on the volume of drugs sold. But under PASTEUR, the government would enter into contracts with manufacturers and pay a predetermined amount for access to their novel antimicrobials — allowing scientists to innovate new treatments without fear of an insufficient return on investment due to low sales volumes.

Essentially, the bill would switch the government from a “pay-per-use” model for antimicrobials to a subscription-style model that pays for the value antimicrobials bring to society. By delinking payments to antimicrobial makers from sales volumes, the measure would stimulate investment in new antibiotics.

The bill would also provide resources to strengthen hospital antimicrobial stewardship programs, which help clinicians use antimicrobials prudently and help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closely monitor resistance. Hospitals should join public health leaders in supporting this legislation and invest more of their resources in their antimicrobial stewardship programs.

Unfortunately, superbugs aren’t an easy enemy to defeat. We need to be fighting them more vigorously to ensure that they don’t get around our best defenses.

Annabelle de St. Maurice is an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and head of pediatric infection control and co-chief infection prevention officer at UCLA Health. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

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