Front & Center: Q&A with Charles Venable

Charles in Charge: He likes cats. Writes books. Collects flatware. Meet the IMA’s new chief.

On October 8, Charles Venable begins his job as the IMA’s director and CEO. We decided to get to know him first.

Does anyone call you Charlie? Only my mother. And no one calls me Chuck.

You’re from Texas, but your last few jobs have been around here—Cleveland, Louisville, now Indy. Are you still a Southerner? Well, my twang remains a little Southern. I worked in Dallas, and most people don’t realize how Midwestern it is. Sure, there are some ladies with big hair and diamond jewelry, but people are pretty earnest, and when it comes to museums, they want you to balance your budget. I think of it as the southernmost Midwestern city.

As a former curator of decorative arts and design, it must be dangerous when you go antiques-shopping. When I was in Indy for an interview, I bought a piece of late-19th-century Japanese-style English porcelain from Midland. So, yes, I do well at antiques shops. Antiques Roadshow has asked me to be on, but I’ve never had time. 

Do you have a favorite piece of art at home? We have a lot of contemporary photography and design, and I like Modernist ceramics. 

Did you ever worry about your daughter, Alexandra, knocking over pieces when she was growing up? Oh, my two cats, Atlas and Zeus, are more dangerous than she ever was. They’re giant Maine Coons.  

How did you meet your IMA predecessor, Max Anderson? I got to know Max when I was at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He was at the Whitney and very involved with getting collections online. So I had breakfast with him in New York, talking about artists’ rights associated with that. I remember him being very much the Max of today—well-dressed and very smart, a native New Yorker. 

How would you describe your own style? I’m a little more casual than Max. I’ve been known to wear jeans to work. That said, I have a collection of ties and fancy shoes. 

You’re the author of Silver in America, among other books. Why fine flatware? I got interested in it not so much for the aesthetics, but the techniques that were developed to change this boring gray metal into something beautiful. That’s actually how I got into art. 

What’s on your personal agenda as a way to learn the city? I want to meet all of my colleagues in the city who run other not-for-profits. [My husband] Martin would jump all over tickets to the Colts and Pacers. He’s the sports fan in the family, and in Louisville, we didn’t have any professional teams. But I do enjoy the Derby. Trading horses for horsepower at the Speedway might be fun.  

>> EXTRA: Trading Places

We asked new IMA director Charles Venable where he hung out in Louisville and suggested some replacements:

Restaurants  Goodbye: Le Relais and Rye. Hello: Petite Chou and Black Market.

Bar  Goodbye: Proof on Main at 21C Museum Hotel. Hello: Plat 99 at The Alexander hotel, opening in January.

Gallery  Goodbye: Paul Paletti Gallery, known for photography. Hello: Pictura Gallery, Bloomington.

Family night  Goodbye: Slugger Field. Hello: Victory Field.

Atmosphere  Goodbye: “Southern hospitality with Midwestern efficiency.” Hello: Hoosier hospitality with big-city energy.

Celebrity-Studded May Spectacle Goodbye: Kentucky Derby. Hello: Indianapolis 500.


Photo by Dale Bernstein

This article appeared in the October 2012 issue.