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A jumbled throng of onlookers contrast the classical sculptures of Rome’s 18th-century Fontana di Trevi, while imitations of the Sistine Chapel’s Renaissance frescoes greet visitors at Las Vegas’s Venetian hotel in the architectural imagery of RECORD's contributing photographer Iwan Baan. On view at the American Academy in Rome, "From Las Vegas to Rome: Photographs by Iwan Baan" opened last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of architects Steven Eisenhower, Denise Scott Brown, and Robert Venturi’s influential book, Learning from Las Vegas (1972). Curated by the Academy’s Andrew Heiskell interim arts director Lindsay Harris, the Dutch photographer’s expository photographs compare the seemingly disparate styles of the two archetypal cities.

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Las Vegas's Caesars Palace, interior. Photo © Iwan Baan

Scott Brown and Venturi “revolutionized architecture by claiming that the lessons the American desert town had to offer equaled those of the Eternal City,” wrote Baan, who will be the American Academy's 2023 photographer in residence, in a statement. After likening the infamous Vegas Strip to Rome’s hallowed piazzas, the pair argued for the merits of American commercialization as a counterpoint to Europe’s architectural relics. “If Scott Brown and Venturi…urged architects to look ‘from Rome to Las Vegas’ to update the field of architecture, this exhibition looks at Las Vegas, with its spectacle of buildings and infrastructure, to rethink Rome, a city shaped by power and money for centuries,” the statement reads. Baan’s works capture instances of spectacle through the continually evolving relationship between image, architecture, and audience; his comparative analysis seems to draw parallels between societal aspirations that may diverge materially and contextually, yet still share commonalities. The photos “force us to question if we can regard architecture without moral judgment,” the statement adds, “in the ecological and social context of the twenty-first century.”

The exhibition—which included an opening discussion titled “Learning from Las Vegas in the Twenty-First Century” between Baan and the American Academy president Mark Robbins—will remain on view through November 27.

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Rome's (1) Altare della Patria (also known as Vittoriano or Victor Emmanuel II National Monument), (2) Piazza San Pietro at the Vatican, and (3) Piazza del Popolo, "People's Square" Rome's largest urban square. Photo © Iwan Baan