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Now serving art: Former Casa restaurant site transformed into contemporary art center

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Open house and art preview

What: The Wunderkammer Company, a nonprofit contemporary art space where Casa restaurant used to be on Fairfield Avenue, is opening for a preview exhibition. An open house celebrates the neighborhood in the 46807 ZIP code.
When: Saturday — the open house is 4-6 p.m. and the gallery exhibit preview is 6-9 p.m.
Where: 3402 Fairfield Ave.
Cost: Free, but donations to Wunderkammer Company will be accepted.

Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 12:01 am

It may take awhile for people to stop calling the new art center at 3402 Fairfield Ave. “the old Casa restaurant.” After all, the eatery was there for nearly 30 years, closing in 2010.

Yet the new owner of the building, who is turning it into Wunderkammer Company, a contemporary art center, is “totally cool” with people referencing it as the former Casa restaurant.

“I just think it has a really strong sense of identity,” said Dan Swartz, who bought the building this year and has spent the summer gutting it.

On Saturday, Wunderkammer will be open to the public for a preview of four exhibits 6-9 p.m. Before that, the gallery will host the 46807 Holiday Open House 4-6 p.m. It, too, is open to the public and will feature music from the South Side High School Jazz Combo and catering by — of course — Casa Ristoranti Italiano, which still operates other restaurants in Fort Wayne.

Wunderkammer is in the 46807 ZIP code area, and the open house gives neighbors an opportunity to mingle with each other and those from elsewhere in the community. Those who go to the open house are welcome to stay for the gallery preview. There is no charge, but donations can be made to Wunderkammer.

On Monday, Swartz and his parents worked to whitewash interior walls in preparation for the show.

“I'm being really open with everybody,” Swartz said. “This is a preview exhibition. This is not meant to be a pristine environment for things.”

Much work has been done, but more remains. Swartz, who works part time for Arts United as a Cultural District liaison, said he probably has been at the Fairfield location working at least 20 hours a week since he bought the building, but during July he didn't get as much done as he wanted because it was so hot.

Swartz tore out the ceiling, exposing steel trusses, and took down some walls. Some exposed brick remains its natural color, but most of the interior is painted white.

“In the art world, they call it a white box,” Swartz said, explaining that the white walls allow visitors to focus on the art.

Part of the floor is concrete; Swartz has left one spot untouched where the yellow stripe of a parking spot can be seen — it's a remnant of a time before that part of the building was enclosed.

Swartz says his Wunderkammer Company (Wunderkammer is a German word that means “cabinet of curiosities”) has the mission of “revitalizing communities through contemporary arts.” In addition to art shows, he foresees performance pieces, lectures and community conversations in the space.

He plans to open the gallery Jan. 2. Saturday is a preview. Those who go will see four exhibits:

•“Fort Wayne 1x1 Exhibition”: This photography project began in June with photographers tasked with making a visual identity of the city by photographing it a section at a time, based on a grid. The project isn't completed yet, but 60 images will be on display Saturday night.

•“EX”: Swartz, who curated this project, describes this exhibit as a play on the concept of the exquisite corpse. Based on an old parlor game, he described it as a technique where several artists build on an image without being able to see what the other artists have already done. EX was exhibited in New York and Chicago before coming to Fort Wayne.

•“End of the World”: University of Saint Francis students are putting together a photography exhibit based on the belief by some that the Mayan calendar indicates Dec. 21 will be the end of the world.

•“Not Tony Smith”: This exhibit created by Swartz is comprised of three replicas of Tony Smith sculptures, broken into three pieces each, so they can be played around with and reconfigured. In fall 2011, they were displayed in the One Summit Square courtyard, where they took a beating from some of the Occupy protesters.

Swartz didn't take offense, saying he's “never mad about any interaction between the public and art.”