The oldest building in the Monument Circle district and "possibly the oldest commercial building in the city," according to a City of Indianapolis study, will reopen to the public Friday following a two-year restoration. The new occupants at 42 E. Washington, which was built circa 1852 to house a drugstore? Two complementary art galleries.
On the ground floor is Gallery Forty-Two, devoted to what co-owner Curt Hunter calls "classical, figurative art," with an emphasis on sculpture. Upstairs is Second Floor: Art and Entertainment, a gallery/event space featuring sports or entertainment-themed contemporary art and fully-equipped with a bar, projector and screen, and other essential party infrastructure.
The Hunter family — parents Jim and Linda, sons Curt and Nick — co-own the galleries and have been behind the restoration of the building, which included removing a portion of the second floor so that it might overlook the first like a mezzanine and creating a new facade. It's striking to look at photos of the building prior to restoration, running in a loop on a video screen on the second floor. The building had been "stabilized" by its previous owner but remained in disrepair, with bare brick walls and ominous puddles. The Hunters ran into "structural" concerns in the early stages of restoration and were forced to remove the fifth floor (the extant third floor is used for storage while the fourth remains unfinished). The end result: a bright space with plenty of wood flooring and paneling, wrought iron fixtures (including two prominent chandeliers) and some hints of the building's pedigree such as exposed brick.
The "featured piece" on the first floor, according to Curt, is a scaled model in cast marble of Frederick Hart's "Ex-Nihilo," a sculpture Hart designed for the Washington National Cathedral. There's also a corner devoted to Salvador Dali, including his 1974 bronze sculpture "Christ of Saint John of the Cross." Why has Gallery Forty-Two chosen to focus on sculpture? Curt says buying decisions are largely informed by personal taste of family members. His parents are interested in sculpture; thus the gallery offers an abundance of sculpture. And by playing to their interests, they're also meeting a need that isn't met by other area galleries, which focus on wall art.
Up on the second floor, the "featured artist" is the Chicago-based Boban Ilic, who uses stainless steel silverware to create sculptures of sports figures, including Michael Jordan. You may recall a kerfuffle in January when local sports fans found out that the Jordan piece would be installed.
Our own David Hoppe asked, incredulously, "Michael Jordan? On permanent display in downtown Indianapolis?" Jordan does have pride of place on the second floor, overlooking the first on the mezzanine-style deck, but the 57-inch sculpture doesn't overwhelm the space. Curt adds that the family plans to regularly rotate works in and out of the gallery, and, thus, the Jordan sculpture isn't a permanent fixture.
For Curt, the first and second floor may be "kind of different worlds," but the aim is to "blend the two. A lot of people don't view art with sports and entertainment as being fine art, so our challenge is to break that mold." And what's more, he hopes the "aesthetics and ambiance of the building can be viewed as a piece of art in itself."