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Susan's Travels Tours + Trips
April 20, 2013, 05:00 AM By Susan Cohn Daily Journal

Susan Cohn/Daily Journal Artist Sonya Clark’s image of Indianapolis-based hair care millionaire Madam C. J. Walker anchors the lobby of The Alexander Hotel in Indianapolis, Ind. The portrait is made of 3,840 black plastic combs.

LOCAL HISTORY INSPIRES CONTEMPORARY ART AT THE ALEXANDER HOTEL IN INDIANAPOLIS, IND. When developers working on plans for The Alexander, a new boutique hotel in downtown Indianapolis, wanted someone to assemble an art collection for the building’s public spaces, their search led them to Lisa D. Freiman, senior curator and chair of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s department of contemporary art. Freiman, with fellow curator Veronica Roberts, was tasked with finding pieces that would reflect The Alexander’s location at the center of Indianapolis’ cultural world and would at the same time elevate the quality of contemporary art in downtown Indianapolis.

The siting of the art was a primary consideration. Freiman said: “We quickly began to review the construction documents for the hotel and worked with the architecture and design team to understand what was planned for various spaces and where might be the best opportunities for displaying art throughout the public areas.”

The theme of local history was woven into the project from the very beginning. The Alexander itself was named in honor of Alexander Ralston, the engineer and architect who spearheaded the Indianapolis’ city plan in 1820. Plat 99, the hotel’s mid-20th Century flavored lounge, designed by Cuban Installation Artist Jorge Pardo, takes its name from the parcel of land on which the property is built. Freiman said, “We asked artists to consider thinking about ways of incorporating a sense of place in the concepts for their works, specifically thinking about how their works might relate to the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, or the Midwest in general.”

Freiman ultimately selected 60 works from 26 artists for the hotel’s lobbies, reception areas, public bathrooms, hallways and dining areas. Fourteen of the pieces were commissioned especially for The Alexander. The wide-ranging works are prominently displayed where they can engage guests and visitors with their witty references to Indianapolis personalities and places.

No work in The Alexander acknowledges its location with more certainty than sculptor Mark Fox’s reflective floor to ceiling laser cut stainless steel stream of consciousness rumination entitled “39 point 76181 degrees North 86 point 154688 degrees West” that greets guests as they exit the elevator into the hotel’s second floor lobby. The title is, in fact, the longitude and latitude of The Alexander or, as Fox’s flowing text bluntly states, “This is where you are right now.” Fox’s meandering metallic prose riffs on The Alexander’s namesake architect and his gravesite (“He rests on a beautiful little plot of earth that’s about seven and a half miles due north from where you are now standing”) and on various other local celebrities, then concludes with the stern directive: “Now go to your room!” Fox said: “The sculpture emerged from my desire to situate the viewer’s body in space, place and time, while also calling attention to the natural and unnatural phenomenon that surround us but often go unnoticed.”

Indiana’s distinctive terrain inspired Adam Cvijanovic’s sweeping work “10,000 Feet,” a 34-foot long and 12-foot high trompe l’oeil aerial view of a rural landscape. The acrylic paint on Tyvek application makes the wall look as if it has been punched through, with sheetrock and wooden lath exposed at the edges, in order to reveal an expansive Midwestern farmscape that appears to stretch out for miles on the other side.

Artist Sonya Clark’s over-sized portrait of Madam C. J. Walker anchors the main area of the second floor lobby. Walker, regarded as the first American female self-made millionaire, made her fortune by developing and marketing beauty and hair products for women. Her headquarters and factory were in Indianapolis. Walker’s image is made of 3,840 black plastic combs that reference Walker’s proud claim, “I am a woman from the cotton fields of the South. I was promoted to the washtub. I was promoted to the kitchen. I promoted myself to the business of hair ... on my own grounds.”

The Alexander collection has become a landmark for Indianapolis. Freiman notes: “There’s a huge sense of pride regarding the art, an awareness that the seriousness of the art sets [The Alexander] apart from other hotels in the city and makes [it] a special place. And the visitor experience, as a result, is truly unique.”

The Alexander is located at 333 South Delaware St., Indianapolis, Ind. Comments by artists represented in the collection may be heard in Hotel Reinterpreted: The Alexander Art Experience at For more information visit or call (317) 624-8200.

AND, REMEMBER: “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” — Paul Theroux.

Susan Cohn is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association and Bay Area Travel Writers. She may be reached at



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