Elton John and partner furnish bar with own works

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 6:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 6:25am

One might not associate the Las Vegas Strip with high-end fine photography, but a new arrival on the sophisticated lounge scene might just change that.

The aptly named champagne bar Fizz opened in the Caesars Palace Hotel in March, but it's not just another swanky watering hole with high-priced cocktails. In between sips from your flute of Dom Perignon (US$1,450 for a bottle of Brut Rose), cast your eyes around the walls to see photography that is only ever enjoyed by guests to Elton John and David Furnish's homes.

Furnish, a former ad executive and now filmmaker who is prominently involved with the Elton John Aids Foundation, is creative director of Fizz - and chief among his priorities is infusing the space with art, turning it into what is probably Las Vegas' only cocktail lounge-museum.

Furnish says that when he was first asked to oversee the concept of Fizz, having art as a central focus was almost a given. "Elton and I are big photography and modern art collectors," he says. "We live with our art and we entertain around our art. The nicest compliment that I've received about Fizz is from friends who say that it feels like they've just walked into our home."

The 51 photos that line the walls of the 2,750-square-foot space come from the couple's various homes (their photography collection alone amounts to about 9,000 prints, spread between an estimated eight homes in the US and Europe), and span works from photographers such as David LaChapelle, David Bailey and Lee Friedlander. Images run from the erotic to the colourful, from the perverse to visual tributes.

"Our goal was to choose photographs from a broad range of artists that would also reflect what Las Vegas is all about - colour, a celebration of life, vibrancy. It has so many different angles to it and it made sense to use this medium, as photography really is the art form of our time."

Standout photographs include LaChapelle's famous shot of a nude Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, which presides over the Owner's Table in a roped-off VIP section upstairs. Another LaChapelle shot features John with Elizabeth Taylor, the two nestled together on a bed, she in a regal pink turban and bejewelled sandals. They were filming the video for his song Original Sin, from his 2001 album, Songs from the West Coast.

"It was the last thing Liz filmed before she died," Furnish says. "She and Elton were great friends, great lovers of life, they both had fantastic senses of humour and were kindred spirits in their philanthropic endeavours and passion for ending the world of Aids. I just love that image so much because it celebrates their friendship, and reminds me of the things she stood for."

Jazz greats from the 1950s and '60s are at the heart of Friedlander's portfolio: at Fizz, these include photos of Miles Davis from 1969, staring soberly into the lens, and Duke Ellington looking sideways into the camera in 1956.

From Italian photographer Guido Mocafico come eerie close-up shots from his Snakes and Spiders series - exotic breeds of the reptiles in colours such as chocolate and banana yellow, coiled up in rectangular boxes. Or gigantic, brooding spiders.

"There are people with genuine arachnophobia who can't look at those photos," Furnish says. "But they provoke a lot of discussion."

With information about the artworks listed on Fizz's iPad menu, Furnish says it's a fairly simple matter to switch the photos, and bring in new offerings every so often.

"If we've done our jobs properly, the place should be a bit like a Fellini film, showing a cross-section of life and a cornucopia of different shapes and sizes," he says.

"People come in and ask so many questions about the art. It's wonderful, it's starting a dialogue about photography, about the art form and the images. It's all about champagne and conviviality and conversation, and we'd like to think there is something for everybody."