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Rod Smith

Nevadan At Work: Matthew Hileman, Marketing director, Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

16 February 2004

Matthew Hileman has traveled a long way to land in an odd little place -- a Kunsthalle, or small, privately owned art gallery in the desert.

The local Kunsthalle is the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, and Hileman is marketing director.

Small art galleries or Kunsthalles, such as the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, are rare even today despite their growing popularity around the world. They are generally private and feature smaller spaces designed to showcase rotating collections owned not by the gallery, but by other museums or private collectors.

Steve Wynn founded the Bellagio gallery when he opened the hotel-casino five years ago. Now Marc Glimcher, president of PaceWildenstein, one of the world's largest contemporary modern art gallery operators, owns the Bellagio space.

PaceWildenstein has represented some of the greatest artists of the 20th century since it opened in 1960 as a small gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. The company now has its home operation on 57th Street in Manhattan.

Hileman operates from a small, cluttered office space over the display areas. And although he's a part of the fine arts world, the art on his walls will either confuse you about him or convince you his personality is as complex as his career in Las Vegas.

Beside his desk hangs an original Frank Sinatra oil from the MGM Mirage corporate collection, with renowned Andy Warhol and Alexander Calder prints nearby. But on the bookcase in between are statuettes of Goofy and Daffy Duck, almost as if commenting on the world he has to hustle in order to manage the gallery.

Now, Hileman is helping arrange what is arguably the finest show of Claude Monet paintings anywhere.

Question: How did you get into museum management?

Answer: When I interviewed for the gallery, I had no idea what I was interviewing for. My intention had been to have a museum career and I was ready to go (home to Pittsburgh), but I saw (Steve Wynn's) great (marquee) sign (saying Picasso now appearing) and thought they wouldn't fill the hotel with prints and posters. I called, found out it was real and applied. They said they had no position and already had a curator, but I took a job (selling tickets) to be close to it and I knew there'd be huge opportunities down the road. That's how it really began. Selling tickets, but learning the marketing as the only art historian on the staff other than the curator, Libby (Lumpkin). And it really bloomed from there. Having been in management before that, they asked me to be supervisor of ticket sales after three months, but I said "no" because I wanted to put my background to work.

Question: What does the marketing director do?

Answer: On a daily basis, my job is to look at the overall marketing play. We're an entity within a well-recognized hotel, so we have lots of marketing issues. Wherever we are, (whatever we do) has to befit the resort as a whole. So I work closely with MGM marketing. Right now, as we're preparing for the Monet exhibition, I have a million issues we have to address. I'm the liaison with New York and with the museum. I could be doing anything from arranging the rooms for the staff to setting up dinner for the board.

Question: How did you land the Chatsworth collection?

Answer: We'd been in negotiations with several museums for what was going to follow Warhol. And the economy has been on a roller coaster, which affects museums, so they were reluctant because it's a time of concern. Art Services International out of Alexandria, Va., sends us exhibition proposals all the time. Usually, we go for unique shows, but I called to see if they had anything even though they usually are booked out two years in advance. As I was calling, I saw the open dates starting in September when we needed a show, so it was fortuitous. They were very excited to work with us because even though they've worked with every major museum in the country, they were very excited about Las Vegas and the Bellagio, as was Chatsworth. And it fit with the policy of working with nonprofits we've had since the (MGM Mirage) merger.

Question: How did the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Monet show come about?

Answer: This is something that had been discussed for a long time. We approached them well over a year ago. Marc (Glimcher) wanted to do a Monet exhibition. He felt Monet was Bellagio. It was one of the top three artists the public identifies with the hotel. It's one of those names everyone knows so it's easy to remember. And everyone who comes to the gallery was struck by Monet. All our meeting rooms and limousines are named for artists.

When you want to do a one-man exhibition, it's very unusual to have one place that has all the paintings. It literally takes years to put together that kind of exhibit. But one day, it just hit him (Marc), Boston had one of the most significant collections of Monet in the world outside of France. Boston was collecting Monet before he died, while he was still working.

They're giving us 21 of the 36 Monet paintings they have. At any one time, they have approximately 10 on display. Not only are we getting the majority of its collection, but even if you went to Boston, you'd never be able to see 21 (Monet paintings) at once.

Question: What do you like most about your job?

Answer: I love the ability I'd never have at any other museum in the world: to do it all. I'm given the opportunity to handle the objects. To be able to sit downstairs and hold in your hands Henry VIII's rosary beads that even the Duke (of Chatworth's) grandson has never even seen, it's moments like this that makes you appreciate how unique it is in this small environment. In major museums, the marketing director usually never even goes into a museum during the installation. I've handled everything from Van Goghs to Rembrandts, everything that's going through the gallery. And that's what makes this job special and unique.

Question: What do you like about Las Vegas?

Answer: Coming from the East Coast and coming out here, I didn't come out intentionally. My parents moved here and I came out to see what it was all about and it was a jarring transition. At first, it was very exciting and you felt as if you were on vacation. And then if you don't pace yourself, you find yourself asking what else is there. What I've come to like about Las Vegas is that it is in its own unique way extremely cosmopolitan. And it's also a very international city. My father was in the military so I've lived a lot of places around the country. This is one of the more diverse and open and accepting cities.

Question: What do you like least about Las Vegas?

Answer: Like everyone else, I think we're all still striving for a more grounded cultural sector. In most major cities, it's already there and it's established. In most cities, it's taken for granted and it's a comfort to know it's there. We do have those things, on some level, but it's growing and it'll be a few more years before it's a good solid entity, a network.

Question: Where does the gallery go from here?

Answer: We have a solidly grounded base of tourists; a lot are repeat visitors. When we put together the membership program, we never thought we'd have as many nonresidents as we've got. It's people who come back twice a year. My goal is to educate the public (that) we are bringing in temporary exhibits twice a year from some of the most extraordinary museums and collections in the world. If you look at what we've done here, you wouldn't have been able to see those anywhere else. The (Alexander) Calder show came from the family's private collection. With the Chatsworth (exhibit), 95 percent came from the duke and duchess's private apartment. That is our goal: to get the message out that what we're doing here is not static. The fear was would people get bored with the collection. We think that this program we have is unique. We have a rare opportunity.