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Indianapolis Refines The Art Hotel



"Restroom?" the guest asked near The Alexander hotel's registration desk, a pair of antique bureaus encased in glass.

"Follow the birds," the employee answered, referring to a flock made of sculpted vinyl records fluttering along a lobby wall.

"Follow the birds" and "just past the graffiti" might become common directions at Indianapolis's new boutique hotel, located three blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of last year's surprise-hit Super Bowl. Visitors are arriving not only to check in, but also to check out a remarkable collection of contemporary-art installations, from the aforementioned graffiti by Banksy rival Nick Walker to an entire bar designed by Jorge Pardo, a MacArthur "genius" award winner.

The street-level vestibule and second-floor registration area serve as a de facto museum gallery, complete with flat white placards on the walls. The first work guests see is Brooklyn-based Alyson Shotz's vertical wave of acrylic strips that reflect a shifting rainbow spectrum. Next, pendant lights that look like jewel-toned jellyfish dangle above a long staircase to the registration level - those are Pardo's, and they lead to a swarm of the same fixtures in the lobby bar.

Three more large-scale works anchor the lobby, each referencing local culture. In what might be viewed as a clever way to get you to stay an extra night, several pieces make you stop and study their intricate details. You'll want to "read" a lacy metal curtain of laser-cut words that represent Brooklyn artist Mark Fox's impressions of Indy, and continually step close to and back away from "Madam C.J. Walker II," a portrait composed entirely of 3,840 black plastic combs; up close, the technique astounds (artist Sonya Clark of Richmond, Virginia, broke teeth from some of the combs and layered them to create shading), and from a distance, the image of the namesake woman comes into focus (Walker created a cosmetics empire in Indianapolis in the early 20th century and became the country's first female African American self-made millionaire).

The Indianapolis Museum of Art, which claims one of the 10 largest encyclopedic collections in the country, curated the hotel's installations, as well as photos and murals for every floor and guestroom. The museum's involvement sets The Alexander apart from other art and design hotels, most of which fill one of two niches: an owner's personal art collection not related to the site, or surreal experimental architecture.

The Alexander, operated by New Jersey­–based Dolce Hotels and Resorts and named for the architect who platted Indianapolis in 1820, opened January 21 as a mid-size property targeted largely to business travelers. It boasts 157 guestrooms (each has dark-wood floors and a seek-and-find mural behind the coffee station), 52 extended-stay suites, an innovative local restaurant, and Pardo's artisanal-cocktail lounge. Located a block from the Indiana Pacers arena, it's also catering to visiting NBA teams with California king beds in many rooms. The tactic worked: The Brooklyn Nets were among the first guests, though the hotel evidently made them a little too comfortable because they arrived at an ungodly late hour and still managed to beat the Pacers later that day.

With some weekend rates well under $200 and a prime location near the city's new $60 million Cultural Trail recreation path that ribbons past every downtown attraction, The Alexander is poised to draw plenty of leisure travelers, as well. Those captivated by the artwork will want to venture four miles north and check out the museum's other public-art showpiece, 100 Acres, an art and nature park with al fresco contemporary installations, opened in 2010.

[Photo credit: Enrique Fernandez]

Filed under: Arts and Culture, United States, Hotels and Accommodations, News

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