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 49 him. He once told Heavrin, "I only have remorse for the things I didn't buy." Like that Kehinde Wiley painting at Art Basel. Wiley reworks history by inserting color, the African-American, into classic white portraits — he knocks Napoleon of the rearing horse and replaces him with the street man, Timberland boots on, bandana tied, pointing with authority. Wilson was smitten when he saw the bright, ornamental background of this familiar artist — four of Wiley's works are now in the 21c collection — but nope. Sold. Not his. Gone forever. "Missed it by minutes," Wilson says. "It's hanging in the lobby of the Brooklyn Museum now." But there's always more art. In less than 40 minutes at the fair, he purchases three pieces for $117,000. "Anything over $20,000 is something to stop and think about," Wilson later says, referring to 21c's art budget, which he declined to disclose. "It sounds like a lot to some, but nothing to real art collectors." He builds each 21c around four or fve permanent pieces. For example: 21c Louisville's "Text Rain," an interactive installation that projects falling letters and the viewers' bodies on a wall, words collecting on heads and shoulders. At the fair, Wilson sees a stack of bricks, each stamped with space trash, satellite or shuttle debris. It takes no time. Sold. A bust of encyclopedias sculpted with a chainsaw. Sold. More bricks, this time on a bicycle. Wilson gets it. Te stress on labor. Wilson has seen bricks transported in the same way. A man with ten donkeys and every donkey loaded with bricks. Women carrying bricks on their heads. Hard work. Te memory of long days on Wilson's father's farm. Wilson had asthma and was allergic to everything — the hay, corn dust, animal dandruf — and would struggle trying to tend the felds. Tis disappointed the father that came from a family of farmers. Te father who cleared the woods and dirt-farmed. Te farmer who only knew work and nothing but work and later in life worked through two cancers, the third halting him to half-days. Te Indiana man who moved to Wicklife — the 800-person town in Western Kentucky — with his loyal wife and Steve, his then- two-year-old son. Into the house on stilts in the river bottom. No running water. No electricity. "James A. Wilson and Son" tattooed on his father's truck. Te son. Te namesake. "Te sissy." At the art fair, Wilson fnds the young dealer, a lady from Brazil. "$15,000," she says. "One-fve?" "One-fve." He turns to Brown and 21c museum director and chief curator Alice Gray Stites. "Are you okay with this? I think the price is good on this." He leaves Gray Stites to handle the details. Te sexy black Audi pulls into the Honaker Aviation parking lot in Sellersburg, Indiana, 12 minutes before takeof. Te private aide, in his 30s, his hair slicked back in a curly bun, drives Wilson 120 to 150 miles a day. Te glasses Wilson bought on a whim in Paris — the red frames that have become the fruit of his face — gleam through the tinted windows. Tere is no real rush. Fly-time is Wilson's time. Tis is 21c's private jet. No gates close on the worried traveler with a quick connection. No plane lifts until he tells it to. Today's trip: to Oklahoma City to check on a 21c hotel under construction. Craig Greenberg, 21c's president, waits inside the Honaker building with a buttoned-up coolness, ready for business. He is a Harvard graduate and, before 21c, knew virtually nothing about art. "He was just a boring lawyer," Wilson jokes. Wilson and Greenberg met on a "professional blind date" and Greenberg advises Wilson on business decisions. "He has made me much more comfortable with pushing the envelope," Greenberg says. "So, we're on for New Orleans tomorrow?" Wilson asks, his voice soft-murmury, hard to catch. Greenberg nods at the plan to scout potential 21c properties in New Orleans. "I need to go to physical training in the morning," Wilson says, referring to a strained shoulder. (He drives horse-drawn carriages in competitions, and his shoulder pain makes it hard to control the reins. He's the 2015 United States Equestrian Federation's National Pair Driving Champion.) Tis April morning, that shoulder is ensconced in an Italian Etro patchwork blazer — navy blue, velvety, plaid and paisley. (His famboyantly foral suit from the 141st Run for the Roses is on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum through the end of the summer.) Greenberg talks numbers, beverage sales. When Molly Swyers, 21c chief brand ofcer, arrives, there's a nod to the young pilot and soon the Citation II is taxiing down the runway. Te jet is fancy: comfortable seats, an assortment of fruit, Babybel cheese. During the two-hour fight, Swyers shows Wilson a picture of the rooftop penthouse deck and points out its water tower (which Wilson once climbed and will later describe as the "biggest hot tub in Oklahoma City!"). Tey discuss the ballroom foor, a permanent art installation made of laser-cut metal with an inlay collage of eyes, hourglasses, an "Open" sign and an androgynous bathroom symbol that all kaleidoscope into a mandala. Swyers, who has the soft directness of a mother with a young son, minds the details, taking notes on her squint-worthy checklist. Wilson emails on his iPad — tap, tap, tap — fngernails clean and clipped. It's as if there are no clouds, no felds, no winding brown river below. Wilson fips through a Sotheby's art auction catalogue he pulled from his briefcase. All the artists so...dead. Miró, Matisse, Warhol. He pauses on Roy Lichtenstein's "Nude with Blue Hair." Tis dotted damsel hung in Proof when it originally opened. Until Wilson realized it Wilson flips through a Sotheby's art auction catalogue he pulled from his briefcase. All the artists so...dead.

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