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The lighting of Oliver Lewis Way art installation won't happen for Breeders' Cup

The public art Christopher Weed is creating for the Oliver Lewis Bridge in downtown Lexington includes abstract sculptures symbolizing flaming bourbon barrels being charred before they are filled with unaged spirit.
The public art Christopher Weed is creating for the Oliver Lewis Bridge in downtown Lexington includes abstract sculptures symbolizing flaming bourbon barrels being charred before they are filled with unaged spirit. Herald-Leader

One of the planned centerpieces of Lexington's Breeders' Cup Festival — the lighting of the art installation on Oliver Lewis Way — has hit a roadblock.

Organizers had hoped to hold the lighting one night in the week before the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships Oct. 30 and 31, but "there was a problem with the fabrication" of the piece, said Kip Cornett, organizer of the festival.

The project has been delayed until November.

"It's very disappointing," Cornett said Tuesday. "We had to cancel the fireworks and everything."

The lighting of Christopher Weed's work Origins, which features glowing balls in six loosely shaped barrels, will now happen after the races are over.

"We're going to make it a legacy event (of the cup), but we're not going to set a date until we get a date 100 percent," Cornett said.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers helped raise almost $30,000 from private donors and various government funding sources for the $150,000 public art project — one of the largest public art projects in Lexington history.

The installation was not commissioned for the Breeders' Cup, but after the Breeders' Cup announced last summer that it was coming to Keeneland, the artist tried to have the work completed, Akers said. "It was a tight deadline to begin with."

Once the artwork is completed, probably in late November or early December, there will be a lighting ceremony, a press conference and a reception, Akers said.

The piece was selected by LexArts after a national contest for public art to adorn the new bridge downtown behind Rupp Arena.

Weed, who is from Colorado, said the abstract sculptures symbolize flaming bourbon barrels in a process used to char them inside before they are filled with unaged spirit.

LexArts executive director Nan Plummer said the idea of lighting Origins during the Breeders' Cup Festival was "irresistible." But the October deadline didn't leave much margin for error.

"And large-scale, one-of-a-kind projects like this always have a degree of the unknown," Plummer said. "As it happened, one non-structural component of the sculpture had to be modified — one of the three sizes of acrylic spheres that light up inside the stainless steel 'barrels' — and more material (had to be) ordered from the supplier in Mexico. This delayed the timeline past our ability to guarantee installation in time for the festival."

Plummer said she thinks next week's Breeders' Cup will be the first of many at Keeneland.

"This work of art celebrating our heritage will welcome and impress visitors for many years to come," she said. "It's still going to be a really exciting and beautiful work of art."

In a news release from LexArts in February announcing the winner, Andrea Fisher of Transylvania University's Morlan Gallery, said Weed's work "captured the history and aspirations of Lexington most profoundly. His abstracted interpretation of burning bourbon barrels is a perfect gateway into the Distillery District, and the classical element of flame is an appropriate counterpoint to the waters of Town Branch running below the Oliver Lewis Way Bridge. Furthermore, the light sculptures resemble glowing torches, emblematic of hope, energy and passion, wonderful descriptors of Lexington's current zeitgeist."

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