Louisville Magazine

JUL 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 7.16 47 Every party has its beginning and its end and tonight's is just beginning — sparks fy and fade. Louisville Executive Aviation burns hot despite the February evening chill. Hot with Harleys and drinking and fannel and youth. It's February 7, 2013 — Steve Wilson's 65th birthday, and damned if he doesn't know how to throw a banger. Te hangar has been turned into a "truck stop," gritty, rural as his roots. Wilson rolls in around 30 minutes after kickof, balanced on the back of a motorcycle, his smile proud as the bike's vroom. Wilson's quiet, keep-it-slow wife Laura Lee Brown (tiara of the billions-in-bourbon Brown-Forman Co.) rocks a leather jacket and glittery silver pants. Wilson's longtime personal aide invited the motorcycle club. Te interior designer of Wilson's farmhouse mansion wears a wig, mullet curls pouring over his shoulders. Te performance artist who lived in Proof 's restaurant window for a month poses for a Voice-Tribune picture. Te man flming the party focuses his camera on a splash of bourbon swallowing rocks; on the birthday cake with two small 21c penguins on top, almost in a red kiss; on the dancing — a young gent whips his blond hair back and forth, topless in his short-shorts. Mayor Fischer smiley as ever. Te night twists and turns with performances from Wilson's deep Rolodex of entertainers. A man dressed as a woman, a woman popping out of a balloon. A woman in a metallic pin-up suit presses an angle grinder to her silver-clad belly. Sparks. It's just like the circus Wilson always wanted — the magic he saw one summer back home in Wicklife that kept him in awe. Te smell of the elephants, the revelation of live music, the aerialists suspended. A tent transformed the boring baseball feld into something he could understand. "I wanted to run of with the circus," Wilson says. Wilson dances alone on the stage. He wears a black cowboy shirt with lucky horseshoes stitched on the shoulders. He clap-steps in the red glow. It's as if there's no old bone in his body except the one that remembers how to groove. His brown eyes are the same as the boy's in the black-and-white portrait on display. Only now, no overalls. A gray beard hugs his square face. In the middle of all this madness, a tattoo artist inks the middle of Wilson's forearm. He winces a little, but not much, because he's buzzed. Black outlines green — a four-leaf clover. "Lucky to be alive," Wilson says. Back onstage, he holds his new permanence up to cheers and looks like the luckiest man in the world. Like there is all the time in the world. Te "Death Clock," as Wilson calls it, ticks onstage, the red numbers constantly moving toward what is less than them, and what is less than them is life. If the clock is right, Steve Wilson has 16 years, zero months, six days, zero hours, 26 minutes and 47 seconds left to live. Te Death Clock is Austrian artist Werner Reiterer's "My Predicted Lifetime." Te piece looks like a large alarm clock — a black, bulky box with LED-red digital numbers — but instead of time to wake up, it's time never to wake up again. A countdown to death, down to the seconds, ticking down, down, down. Te artist based Wilson's predicted time of death on an actuary test, an assessment insurance companies use to determine risk factor, with questions like: Do you smoke? (Wilson, now 68, says: "Never. Occasionally a cigar.") Do you drink? ("Bourbon, yes.") Have sex? (Chuckle. "And it even asks how often.") Te oblong death dinger is mounted outside Wilson's ofce, the corporate headquarters of 21c Museum Hotels, two doors down from the boutique hotel's fagship site in downtown Louisville. Born in 2006, 21c is the child prodigy of Wilson and Brown. It is a place to sleep with art or just wander some free fve a.m. (the museum is open 24/7, always gratis) and marvel at the mind maps on the walls, or clink drinks and forks at Proof on Main, the upscale restaurant inside the hotel. Originally an experiment with the goal to share the couple's growing art collection, help reinvigorate the city center, conserve historic space and defy suburban sprawl, the 90-room hotel on Main Street (in buildings that were once bourbon and tobacco warehouses) is booming. "Art is so often dismissed as less important," Wilson says. "Tat it can be the anchor of economic development, establishing jobs for so many people — it's a whole series of rewards. Sort of like a pebble in a pond. Te ripple efect." Te 21c ripples are ever widening into other "second- tier" cities with downtowns needing revitalization: As his Death Clock ticks, 21c's Steve Wilson cannot stop. "Art is so often dismissed as less important," Wilson says. "That it can be the anchor of economic development, establishing jobs for so many people — it's a whole series of rewards. Sort of like a pebble in a pond."

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