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At $28 million, Encore’s Popeye One of world’s priciest sculptures

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by Josh Resnek

As a lover of sculpture, I can state unequivocally, there is nothing quite like Jeffrey Koon’s painted stainless steel masterpiece of Popeye, now appearing inside the Encore Hotel and Casino in our city.

The stainless steel Popeye is a $28 million piece of modern sculpture intended to draw people to it – and it absolutely, positively, will do just that.

Exactly how many is the only question and this will be answered after the opening and viewing the first several months financials and statistics. To have such a piece of modern art in Everett – well – there has never been anything even close to approximate this type of expensive artwork appearing in our city – or in any neighboring city in more than 300 years.

One wonders what the excise tax on it would be if the city were allowed to charge it?

Wynn’s in lieu of tax payments to the city, expected to be about $40 million this year, precludes additional excise taxation on the sculpture or any of the outrageously valuable and expensive art work installed in the casino and hotel.

Here’s how the artwork was described in an Asssociated Press release Tuesday.

Much like the company’s other properties, Encore Boston Harbor will feature millions of dollars in original artwork.

A fanciful carousel sculpture made up of 83,000 flowers and 11,000 jewels will greet visitors at the casino entry. Murano glass chandeliers will dangle from the gambling floor ceiling. And Koons’ Popeye will stand sentry by the casino’s meeting rooms.

“At the end of the day, people want to come for an experience,” Encore President Robert DeSalvio said. “Our team has spanned the globe to find very special touches. All of it creates a bespoke entertainment experience. It’s a place for people to come back to time and time again.”

The $28 million Popeye is arguably the most notable piece of anything in the city.

The 6-foot-5, 2,000-pound sculpture was installed earlier this week by the garden esplanade and will remain wrapped in plastic to protect it from dust ahead of Opening Day, said Roger Thomas, executive vice president of design for Wynn Design & Development.

The $28 million purchase raised some eyebrows, especially among critics who dismiss Koons’ art as gaudy or a fad. But company officials say the cartoon sailor is an invaluable part of the Encore Boston Harbor experience. Like at other Wynn Resorts properties, Thomas selected decor and furniture that elicit drama, mystery, delight and joy, among other emotions, what his team calls “evoca-tecture” — and Popeye is a central part of that at the five-star casino and resort along the Mystic River, it was reported by Masslive.com.

The Popeye character dates back to the late 1920s when he appeared in Elzie Crisler Segar’s daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre,” but the sailor has become a larger-than-life symbol of strength and manhood. In an interview with Naomi Campbell, Koons said that’s what inspired him to create the three Popeye sculptures.

“I think I was drawn to Popeye because it makes reference to our paternal generation, like the parents of people of my generation, he said at the time.

Koons’ Popeye sculptures aren’t just a display of masculinity. They tower over most, but the transparent color coating invites people to study their own reflections, as though they were in a fun house’s room of mirrors.

“The person looking at them is actually reflected in the art. I think the person looking at the art becomes a piece of the art while they’re involved at the art,” Roger Thomas said. “I think that’s a wonderful, very contemporary late 20th century notion.”

Wynn Resorts doesn’t buy hotel art, Thomas said. He travels abroad frequently, exploring art in different parts of the world to bring back to the casino and resort.

“They’re nothing that anyone’s seen at a hotel,” he said. “I hope that we’ve surrounded everyone with beauty that they find unique and surprising in a different way than what we find in hotels.”

Wynn’s executive vice-president of Design and Development knows of what he speaks.

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