Artist Heather Hermann and Meow Wolf are reviving the memory of a lost Vegas Xanadu

Heather Hermann in her studio
Photo: Kate Russell / Courtesy or Meow Wolf

It’s a somewhat rare occurrence to meet someone born and raised in Las Vegas. Artist Heather Hermann, a seventh-generation Nevadan, not only meets that criterion, she has the history of this city running through her veins.

A rendering of Hermann’s <em>Xanadu</em>

A rendering of Hermann’s Xanadu

Nicknamed the “Duchess of Deco,” Hermann isn’t solely concerned with the past. Her interest in postmodernism, neon noir and retro-futurism are visible in every aspect of her art, from 3D installations and paintings to her role as creative director for Requiem, a Final Fantasy-themed coffee and tea shop in Anaheim, California.

It’s for these reasons that Hermann was tapped as a contributing artist for Meow Wolf’s permanent exhibition Omega Mart, opening as the anchor of the Area15 retail and arts complex in early 2021.

Influenced by such illustrators as Yoshitaka Amano and Erté, Hermann’s aesthetic evokes certain classic qualities, with references to Gustav Klimt and Hajime Sorayama, while leaning deeply into the elemental, dystopian abstraction of ’80s sci-fi films like Blade Runner and Brazil.

“At Meow Wolf we’re all about maximalism,” says Meow Wolf and Omega Mart director of marketing Isabel Zermani. “And I’d say that’s likely true for Heather, too. She has this very potent vision that she’s able to execute and she has a world that she’s able to show us piece by piece, and that’s very Meow Wolf.”

Hermann’s Omega Mart contribution is based on plans for the Xanadu, a hotel approved in 1976 by the County Commission to be built on the Las Vegas Strip. Plans for the Xanadu fell through, but early designs for what would have been the city’s first themed hotel still exist.

“Ever since I saw the actual architectural renderings of the Xanadu, I was just like, ‘Wow, what a different place this city would’ve been,’” Hermann says. “It looked like 1970s futurism [meets] Blade Runner [meets] Showboat on steroids. It’s very Atari-esque on the outside.”

For Meow Wolf, Hermann rebuilt the exterior of the Xanadu to spec in 3D, with futuristic touches of the artist’s own vision, including elements of pop surrealism and art deco influences.

“I’m really in love with the period of Vegas that had that aspect,” Hermann says. “You see it still in McCarran airport; the remnants of it are still there. But as far as that being a major architectural point in our city, we don’t have too much of it anymore, when everything was dripped and laced in neon and mirrors everywhere. It was awesome.”

In July, Meow Wolf released its first mini-doc on a Vegas artist, featuring local designer and muralist Eric Vozzola. Now, Meow Wolf’s second Vegas-based mini-doc will feature Hermann, digging into the inspiration behind her Xanadu-themed installation.

“As soon as I started looking at Heather’s work, I was blown away and really wanted to talk to her,” Zermani says. “She’s a fascinating and brilliant person and so highly skilled in this vapor wave aesthetic. I thought, this person is so cool.”

Hermann likens her Omega Mart work to experiencing the Mandela Effect—a phenomenon in which a collective of people remember an event or moment in time differently from how it actually happened.

“Did you actually experience it, or is it a false memory?” Hermann asks. “There will probably be an older generation of people that are going to go, ‘Hey, wait a second, I’ve heard about that place.’ It’s because its architecture is so falsely familiar, and the name of it is automatically associated with the [1980] Olivia Newton-John movie. It’s one of things that I hope makes somebody stop and question it for a second.”

It also begs the question, how different would Las Vegas have looked if certain projects like the Xanadu—or the USS Enterprise of Star Trek, which was slated for construction in 1992—had been built?

Referencing our own upside-down reality within the COVID-19 pandemic, Hermann says the notion of alternate reality feels even more relevant now. “Everything is just surreal. Where am I? What’s going on? Who am I?” Hermann asks. “Vegas is just such a little unique jewel in the desert. There’s something special about it, and I think that’s what makes it so eerily unique.”

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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