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The Alexander: luxury hotel meets art museum



If you have occasion to park your car at CityWay, the new mixed-use development just, er, north of south in downtown Indy, you'll come across a certain dapper gentleman in a pin-striped suit and a bowler hat. But he's not a parking attendant. Or a performance artist. And he's kind of 2-D.

Called the Vandal - we'll soon explain the name - the gentleman appears in spray paint murals by British artist Nick Walker found on every floor of CityWay's CarPark South, a parking garage connected by a skybridge to The Alexander, the trendy new hotel that opened Jan. 21.

Walker, who hails from Bristol, England, was a leading figure in Britain's underground graffiti movement, but has lately been spending just as much time in New York City. He created his murals in Indianapolis at the invitation of Buckingham Companies, the developer of CityWay.

I caught up with Walker on a rainy December day as he was finishing up a two-week stint in Indy. In his mid-forties, Walker was dressed in jeans, a vest-jacket and a narrow-brimmed fedora, certainly more dressed down than the Vandal, who can be found most prominently on the first floor of the parking garage, depicted in silhouette.

"The Vandal is the main character throughout this whole building," said Walker. "His mission is to paint the town red, the old phrase, in his kind of colors. He goes from city to city and paints landmarks. Now he's come to Indiana."

The Vandal's formal dress is designed to give him an incognito aspect.

"In the 60s and the 70s, city workers and bankers were still wearing pinstripe suits, bowler hats," said Walker. "That was the very quintessential English gentleman. I just figured that if a vandal was dressed like that, no one would expect him to be doing any wrongdoing. That's really a super hero out there. So when he goes out painting he's dressed as a city banker."

Walker is playing here into a certain irony: The fact that he was now commissioned to create a type of art that has its roots in the underground graffiti movement - and whose most "authentic" practitioners are subject to prosecution - highlights the increasing acceptance and sophistication of street art. From another perspective, the vandal might represent the co-opting of graffiti culture, as a sort of corporate figure infecting every surface Walker has been invited to paint upon during regular business hours.

"At the end of the day, 'vandal' is a taboo word," Walker said. "It's a word everyone associates with graffiti. Everyone says if you paint graffiti it's vandalism, or they used to before it became more of an acceptable art form."

Walker often uses stencils as well as photo-references in creating his colorful murals. But you can also see an amazing spontaneity, exuberance and playfulness in his work that's born of needing to create material quickly, on the spot.

In one painting of the vandal, you see him reclining on a sort of couch made out of letters spelling "VANDAL" and reading The New York Times. Another mural depicts an eye-popping rainbow, its bright colors dripping down into the water below. On a concrete pillar not far from the rainbow is a painting of a girl in a ski mask with a can of spray paint in each hand - as if she is the artist/culprit responsible for creating this rainbow.

Walker's multi-story mural installation is among 14 site-specific installations curated by Lisa Freiman, the Chair of the IMA's Contemporary Art Department, for the hotel. The other pieces include a portrait of Madam C.J. Walker made out of combs by Sonya Clark, and an adhesive vinyl installtion by Indy-based artist Artur Silva.

Nearly all CityWay installations are accessible to the general public; according to Borshoff PR, the main exceptions to the rule are those located inside of restrooms off-limits to the opposite sex. Parking is not free, but access to the parking garage is.

Alexander Hotel installations

Aziz + Cucher (Brooklyn)
Synaptic Bliss_Alexander, four-channel video on eight monitors, with sound, seven minutes
Location: the bridge connecting the parking garage to the second floor

Kim Beck (Pittsburgh)
Lot (Indianapolis), vinyl on windows
Location: second floor women's restrooms

Andrew Bordwin (New York)
A Fractured Travel Guide to Indianapolis, archival inkjet prints
Location: across from the third floor elevators

Sonya Clark (Richmond, Va.)
Madam C.J. Walker II, plastic combs
Location: second floor reception area

Adam Cjivanovic (Brooklyn)
10,000 Feet, flash paint on Tyvek
Location: second floor public space

Mark Fox (Brooklyn)
39 point 76181 degrees North 86 point 154688 degrees West, polished laser-cut stainless steel
Location: across from second floor elevators

Damien Gilley (Portland, Ore.)
X, vinyl on latex
Location: across from the fifth floor elevators

Nina Katchadourian (Brooklyn)
Heartland, C-print
Location: second floor public space

Ara Peterson (Providence)
Zebra Fruit Wavepack, acrylic on wood
Location: above second floor reception desk

Alyson Shotz (Brooklyn)
Standing Wave, diachroic acrylic and velcro tape
Location: ground level

Artur Silva (Indianapolis)
Allegory of the Cave: State Fair, adhesive vinyl on wall
Location: across from sixth floor elevators

Paul Villinski (Brooklyn)
Anthem, vinyl records, turntable, record covers and wire
Location: second floor reception area


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