Art: I spy a new sculpture on campus

Stroll through the grounds of U of L for a fresh public art sighting — Russell Vogt’s ‘Red Reeds’

Last week, walking through the University of Louisville’s Belknap campus, I noticed a Russell Vogt sculpture southeast of the library. Vogt’s bamboo-like shapes shoot up in firework color. The towers playfully bend, each ceramic segment held within thick primary-colored glaze. “Red Reeds” juts candy red-hot hues onto the background of green grass, leaves and bushes, a complementary color pairing that works to the sculpture’s advantage.

Installed in a landscaped area with surrounding seating, it appears the spot was designed with the sculpture in mind, but the space, called Parrish Court, has existed for years. The donation of “Red Reeds” is in honor of Shirley Willihnganz’s 10 years as university provost of U of L, an anonymous gift to the university’s public art collection, which currently holds more than 125 artworks.

“Red Reeds” was purchased from Galerie Hertz a year ago, but it took a while to put all of the needed pieces in place to schedule an installation. Bill Brasch, senior construction coordinator at U of L, explains how “photographs were taken and we electronically added the sculpture to a few sites before a decision was made.”

I recognized the art because Vogt’s work is prominently displayed at Galerie Hertz. Spotting artwork in a new context is akin to identifying a singer of a new release or noticing how the latest style is simply a remix of a 1940s standard. Feeling a part of the conversation is what makes art, music and fashion so much fun. I have written about this before, when Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture from Speed’s foyer showed up in 21c. Or when the Kentucky Center’s Dubuffets vanished from their outdoor posts. (After the Dubuffets were cleaned, they were installed inside. I prefer them viewed on the street, which was the original intention, but that’s another story.)

If you like this “I Spy” game of art identification as much as I do, you may also recognize a Vogt piece at Bernheim Forest. The same donor of “Red Reeds” gifted Vogt’s “Hello” to the Bernheim’s Art in Nature collection, an assembly of a dozen public works including a Patrick Dougherty willow branch sculpture. (Dougherty is very prolific, a terrific example of this connect-the-dots public art pastime.) “Hello” is large-scale, created in Vogt’s signature bright-color palette, a mosaic of shiny blues, possibly inspired by Chagall’s windows.

A Louisville enthusiast, Vogt lived here for six years. He moved away in 2000 and currently lives in Minnesota. “I always liked Louisville, and the city has been good to me,” he says. “Each year I get back to enjoy the art and galleries. I’m hoping to some day move back.”

Until he does, we can enjoy his work at a few spots around town — Bernheim Forest, Galerie Hertz and U of L — as well as in many private collections. Have you seen a Vogt in someone’s home? If so, you’ve won this “I Spy” round. For now …