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Hotel art adds more than ambiance: Local gallery offers work from Picasso to Perrin for sale at Conrad Indianapolis

July 24, 2006

An international crowd in for the Formula One race milled through a sold-out Conrad Indianapolis downtown on a recent weekend. As they jutted off to their spa appointments and dinner reservations, some may have spared a glance at artwork that sprinkles the walls of the first and mezzanine floor-an interesting mix of modern art from the likes of Pablo Picasso to Indianapolis artist Lois Main Templeton.

The collection of 18 pieces was selected under an agreement between the hotel and a local gallery that gives both companies a portion of the commission from any sales.

"It's the first time we've hung art in a hotel that's been for sale," said Christine Mallon, business manager for Broad Ripple-based Editions Limited Gallery of Fine Art. Editions Limited is a division of locally based J.M. Mallon Inc., which also owns two Frame Designs stores-one in Meridian Kessler and one in Carmel.

The highlights of the collection hang directly behind the front desk: two numbered lithographs of portraits Picasso did for his "Portraits Imaginaires" series. Picasso, an icon of the modern art movement and co-developer of cubism, was born in Spain but painted mostly in France before his death in 1973.

According to Mallon, Picasso received a shipment of art supplies and used the corrugated cardboard boxes to paint 29 portraits, which were turned into a lithograph series, two of which are in the hotel.

Also behind the front desk is an etching and aquatint from Joan Miró, a contemporary of Picasso's who was aligned with the surrealists. Mallon said the work hanging in the Conrad, "Llibre Dels Sis Sentits I," is representative of Miró, who often used bold, primary colors. Editions represents the Picassos and the Miró on consignment for ModernMasters Fine Art Brokerage LLC.

The heavy hitters are accompanied in the collection by well-known Hoosier artists Lois Main Templeton, Marta Blades and Myra Risley Perrin, as well as six other contemporary American artists.

Some of the paintings and prints blend so nicely with the hotel they seem made for the space, but that's not the case. When Conrad officials were near completion of the hotel, they called in Gash International LLC to, among other things, put the finishing polish on the interior design. Gash is a small, locally based consulting firm that specializes in design and branding.

"[The Conrad] came to us with a need for fine art in the common areas ... with limited time before the opening," said Gash principal GK Rowe. Rowe said it tapped Editions Limited LLC to take on the project because of its business acumen.

The gallery will get its standard commission and the Conrad will also get a percentage of the sale, according to Mallon, who declined to disclose exact numbers. Typically, gallery commissions can vary greatly, but run in the 50-percent range.

Mallon said when the gallery started on the project, workers toured the thenunfinished hotel in hard hats with cement dust flying. They measured the space and worked with some drawings and color palettes to select art.

Gash and Editions presented Conrad officials with two choices: a range of traditional art pieces or a selection with a contemporary feel. Hotel officials chose the modern pieces, Rowe said.

The hotel will have catalogs available soon explaining the pieces and listing their prices, which range from slightly less than $2,000 to $19,250.

The original plan was also to hang name plates next to the works and let guests charge them to their room if desired. The room charge was scrapped due to tax complications, and the hotel nixed the original set of name plates because they looked too commercial. Instead, they've instructed staff to talk to interested guests about the art, according to David Brian Catalon, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.

Catalon said Conrad officials are pleased with the result.

"We think of it as an experience enhancer for our guests," he said. "What really brings the art to life is our belief in it and our own affection for the works."

None of the pieces have sold since the hotel's opening in late March, but when one does, it will be replaced immediately. Catalon said he already has his favorite piece, "Inferno" by former Indianapolis resident Christos Koutsouras, that he'll miss if it sells.

For the artists, the quality of the collection and the upscale hotel made up their minds.

Lois Main Templeton said she usually declines when asked to hang her art at a hotel or restaurant.

"Many of us artists are very suspicious about putting work out just for exposure," she said. "It ends up being free decoration."

But, she said, she didn't want to pass on the exposure the Conrad could offer, especially to the hotel's often international mix of guests.

Marta Blades' painting "Floating on Soft Poppies" is included in the Conrad collection. Blades moved to Indianapolis from Hungary as a teen-ager to attend Marian College and worked until recently as the gallery director at Editions.

Blades, who recently retired to North Carolina, said she was excited to be a part of the mix in the hotel.

"We have local artists hanging in the same environment with the modern masters," Blade said. "It speaks for the quality of the art."
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