The Big Room
If you’ve ever stood in front of a Damien Hirst piece and wondered what it must be like inside the artist’s head, today is officially the day to find out. The British contemporary artist—famous for sensational, and often controversial, works like his animal carcasses suspended in vats of formaldehyde and glittering diamond-encrusted human skull—has unveiled his Empathy Suite, an ultra-high-rolling addition to the Sky Villas collection at Las Vegas’s the Palms Casino Resort.
Anyone familiar with Hirst’s work can imagine the details: medicine cabinets full of pills, kaleidoscopes of butterflies, dead animals. Yes, it’s all there in the 9,000-square-foot (about 836 square metres) suite, which made an official debut recently. And this being Vegas (not to mention Hirst), it was done in the most over-the-top way imaginable. Winner/Loser, a pair of sharks suspended in a formaldehyde-filled tank, has been set into a wall in the living room; a medicine cabinet called Vegas and dotted with diamonds graces the entry; and a ten-panel spread of the artist’s butterfly motifs on gloss-painted canvases easily place the value of the suite’s art collection in the eight figures.
But Hirst didn’t just toss a bunch of his art into the room and call it a day—he chose every material, designed every furnishing and conceived every detail (in collaboration with Bentel & Bentel Architects) down to the carpet and the drapes. The butterfly designs continue on the terrace (featuring an infinity-edge plunge pool that cantilevers high above Sin City) and in the bathroom (which is covered wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with Venus Gray marble). A 13-seat curved bar has been filled with medical waste—a nod to Hirst’s early Medicine Cabinet series, an overt comment on our over-medicated modern society—and topped with Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time, two vitrines containing a marlin skeleton and a taxidermy marlin. There are also Italian leather sofas draped, again, with Hirst’s butterfly motif; a custom pool table covered in a replica of one of the artist’s colourful spin paintings; and a movie theatre (where we suggest perhaps a screening of the art documentary The Price of Everything to put it all into perspective). Surprisingly, there’s also a wellness theme (perhaps Hirst is on a health kick these days?) with a private healing salt room, two massage rooms and a private fitness centre.
Hirst isn’t just an artist, though. He’s very much an entrepreneur—a fact that artworks like his mass-produced, yet no-less-high-priced spot paintings certainly attest to—and his partnership with the Palms has created North America’s most expensive suite. The rate, US$100,000 (or the mere sum of RM413,850) per night, with a two-night minimum, eclipses the Mark Hotel’s Grand Penthouse in New York by an impressive 25 grand per night. There is one way around that price tag, though: Casino players with a million-dollar line of credit at the resort can move in for free.