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My Art Collection: Helmut Fortense

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About the series: 'My Art Collection' is an occasional Sky Blue Window feature that explores works on the walls and shelves of art enthusiasts across the metropolitan area. Collections -- big, small, expensive and inexpensive -- are included. But they all have one thing in common: art-world inspiration.

Name: Helmut Fortense

His work: Owner of Form + Function, an Indianapolis modernist furniture and design store in Nora.

His play: Travel and spending time at home.

Collection CliffsNotes: If Fortense doesn't love the design of a piece, he won't keep it. So everything inside his modernist home, and the house itself, are included in the collection.

Favorite pieces: Fortense can't pick them. That's like asking a man to choose between his children, he says.

Decade he began collecting: Late 1950s, early 1960s

Something he'll never have in his collection: "Years back there was a big controversy about an artist who put a crucifix into urine ("Piss Christ," 1980s). I don't think I like something that is repulsive ... and is deriding something else."

Helmut Fortense tries to pick favorite pieces of artwork from his collection, but he just can't get the job done.

"It's a little bit like if you have eight children and you say 'who are your four favorites?'" he says. "That is difficult."

One such thing is his less-than-1,500 square-foot flat-roofed home, designed by Hoosier modernist architect Edward D. Pierre. A place Fortense says he looks forward to returning to daily, the Zionsville-area house surrounds him with simple, clean lines and natural light coming through a swath of windows.

"I think this is a masterpiece," says Fortense, who is standing in the middle of the living room. There aren't any curtains on his windows, so views of his wooded lot are everywhere. Not far away, he points out, you can see an owl sitting in a tree. "I believe firmly that an environment contributes to your happiness. When everything works together for you, you will be happy. The house reflects me."

Despite its relatively small size, the house is a big thing. Fortense, who owns modernist and contemporary furniture and design store Form + Function, also loves the smaller pieces he keeps inside his home's walls -- everything from its kitchen utensils and furniture to its paintings and sculpture. If he didn't, he wouldn't keep them.

After purchasing it 8 years ago, Helmut gets daily use from this handmade Italian kitchen table composed of a glass top on wooden base. - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • After purchasing it 8 years ago, Helmut gets daily use from this handmade Italian kitchen table composed of a glass top on wooden base.

"I cannot compromise," he admits. "It either clicks right away or I'm not interested."

So Fortense even loves a leftover holiday decoration hanging in his dining room. It adds a bit of whimsy to the red, German-design pendant light hanging over another beloved piece: an Italian-made glass-topped table where he dines. The smooth wooden table, a reproduction of a 1940s Carlo Molino design, looks something like a beautiful skeleton, he says.

"The more you look at it, the more fascinating it becomes," says Fortense. "The originality is so profound, you know."

Nearby, in the hallway is an obvious favorite -- not just of Fortense's, but also of plenty of his art-and-design-obsessed visitors: A numbered lithograph of "Observatory Time" one of American surrealist Man Ray's most well-known paintings. In it, a pair of ruby red lips floats above a landscape. Purchased at the Indianapolis gallery Editions Limited with his partner, Nancy Campbell, decades ago, the painting delights Fortense.

"If it had male lips, for example, I probably wouldn't like it as much," he says laughing. "And the craziness of the idea, to have a pair of lips and the sky. So, in any case, I've had it forever and it will never leave."

This Man Ray lithograph, "Observatory Time" numbered 31-150, hangs in his hallway - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • This Man Ray lithograph, "Observatory Time" numbered 31-150, hangs in his hallway

Man Ray is in good company, too. One of Alexander Calder's paintings hangs on a wall nearby.

Buying that one -- Fortense doesn't think it has a title -- brings back memories of a 1973 trip to Chicago. He bought the painting from a gallery when he couldn't afford it, just after he purchased a Decatur, Ill. car dealership.

"We were a family of four and we had a budget of $1,500 to live off of per month. All of the money went into the business," he says. "Then I saw this. It was irresponsible, but I got it."

But don't think Fortense is a spendthrift. He's so happy with his collection that he hasn't purchased additions for two decades.

Alessi Shiba created the simple style and lines of this pot and lid from the Design Naoto Fukasawa collection in 2011. - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Alessi Shiba created the simple style and lines of this pot and lid from the Design Naoto Fukasawa collection in 2011.

That is, if you don't count the Japanese cookware he bought a couple of weeks ago from Form + Function. Distributed by design shop Alessi and designed by Naoto Fukasawa, the pot is "absolutely gorgeous," he says, running his fingers over it.

"It's close to perfection in every way -- the quality, the material, the functionality and the beauty," he says.

The pot makes boiling eggs and potatoes an experience with artwork rather than an everyday task for Fortense. And that makes even this pot yet another one of his favorite things.

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