Juan Francisco Casas


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European Union (Las Vegas City Life Magazine, EEUU)

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White Square Gallery takes viewers on a sensual overseas art trip.

LAS Vegas is blessed with a growing downtown arts scene, as well as a number of first-rate fine art galleries like Las Vegas Art Museum, The Fallout and Dust. But for a long time, a certain niche remained open and waiting for someone to fill -- namely the contemporary European art category. Enter Natasha Young of White Square Gallery, which is nestled deep within the Village Square mall on Sahara Avenue and Fort Apache Road. There, Young has assembled a themed exhibit provocatively titled The Joy of Sex, featuring work by some of the hottest young European artists of the moment. Interestingly, the exhibit was unveiled during the same month (last September) that the famous book of the same name enjoyed its eighth printing.

However, the exhibit's title may be a tad misleading, at least for those jaded by the ceaseless pleasures implicitly (and often explicitly) promised by Las Vegas. Anyone expecting to enjoy blatant sex acts depicted on canvas or in three-dimensional form will be disappointed. But for those looking for erotically charged high art from overseas can do no better than check out what's, er, hanging on the walls of White Square.

For instance, there's Juan Francisco Casas' quirky yet beautiful "Aliskilladolcevita 1 & 2," a diptych involving a young sunglassed woman apparently licking her own toes. Casas, a Spaniard, is said to work exclusively with the biggest blue ball (hah!) point pens he can find, and his photorealistic work is somehow both polished and very raw. His third piece, "Baloonannelaure," involves another face-cropped woman with lips wrapped around what looks like either a glass bong or a translucent phallus. These detailed pen drawings are very small -- only around 10"x15" -- yet they pack quite a marvelous visual wallop.

"It's true that the concept of sex has changed," says Young. "For older generations, sex was more sensual."

According to Young, since porn wasn't so readily available 30 years ago, sex seemed more erotic than autoerotic. Indeed, with the line between today's erotica and hardcore imagery more or less gone, can we say we are having more sex now than at any other point in history? Probably not, especially in this era of AIDS, declining marriages and more divorces. As the German rock band Dorrn sings in a video specially produced for The Joy of Sex exhibit, "We are oversexed and underfucked."

Someone who helps extend this notion of the power and purpose of eroticism is another German photographer, Diana Scheunemann. Her joyous "Bubbles" froths with sunny carnality. In it, a naked car-washing woman is smiling, her yellow sponge and pale breasts pushed up against a door window as a camera voyeuristically snaps an image from the driver's seat. It's an moment that blends cheesecake photography and J.G. Ballard's Crash, and succeeds in grabbing your eye the second you step into this gorgeous little space.

Speaking of the gallery, it's no longer the sole White Square in town these days. Young recently opened another location in Boca Park (740 S. Rampart Blvd., Suite 4), where she's featuring more work by the nine artists showcased in the Village Square space. Young, a pretty brunette who earned an art history degree from the University of Culture in Kiev, Ukraine, says she sought to ensure that her foray into contemporary European art not be driven by a client's desire for something to go with his home furnishings.

"You cannot buy a piece of art because it matches your drapes and then call yourself an art collector," she insists. "There is a difference between art and décor."

That difference is evident in every piece (and with every artist) Young invites into White Square. She and her business partner spent years traveling to different art festivals across the globe in search of new and celebrated talents, and together they own a third White Square in Berlin. Young saw that Vegas -- and the West Coast in general -- offered very little, if anything, in the way of contemporary European art, and set out to change it.

"We try to do it right," she says. "We don't just rent space to artists. We work hard to curate a show around a theme and build it up from there."

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