High Museum of Art: Atlanta's Premier Fine Art Collection



The High Museum of Art is considered the premier fine arts collection in the Southeast. The museum is located in Midtown Atlanta. Nearby attractions include Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlantic Station and the Center for Puppetry Arts. The museum is easily reached from the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector. MARTA, Atlanta's rapid transit system, serves the museum with a bus line and a train station.

The High began in 1905 in the private home of Mrs. Joseph High. In 1955, the museum moved to a brick building next door to her home. Finally, in 1983, the collection was given a home worthy of it, in a stunning, modern 135,000-square-foot building designed by Richard Meier. The American Institute of Architects named the building one of the "Top Ten Buildings of the 1980s.'' In 2005, the museum grew again, this time into a three-building expansion designed by renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, which more than doubled the size of the museum. No less an authority than the director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, who was on hand for the opening of the Piano buildings, exclaimed, ''It's marvelous and really a new museum.'' The original Meier building and the Piano expansion complement each other nicely. The Los Angeles Times says, "It is hard to think of another American example where connected buildings by two prominent architects get along so well.''

The traditional core of the High's 11,000-item collection is its 19th- and 20th-century American art, which features American Impressionists, painters of the Hudson River School, and pieces by artists such as Joseph Stella and Georgia O'Keeffe. The museum is becoming known, however, for its European collection - it recently acquired major works by Mary Cassatt, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Bonnard, and Ydouard Vuillard. Another important and growing collection is Southern Folk Art. The museum, according to its website, is "the only major museum in North America to have a full-time curator specifically devoted to the field of folk and self-taught art.'' Major artists in the collection include the Reverend Howard Finster, Mattie Lou O'Kelley, Thornton Dial and William Hawkins. The High also has collections of African art, the decorative arts and design, photography and contemporary art.

The High Museum announced in 2006 that it was beginning a three-year partnership with the Louvre in Paris, a project that would bring some of the French museum's finest works to Atlanta. The Chicago Tribune noted, perhaps a bit jealously, "The Paris museum has never allowed so much of its collection to be lent out for such a long period.'' The article says, "It was a bold experiment for Atlanta,'' and, indeed, the experiment paid off. The museum's attendance and memberships are higher than they have ever been. Although the partnership ended in September of 2009, director Michael Shapiro said in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "We don't believe our relationship with the Louvre will end.''

The High is almost always a stop for major traveling exhibitions, as well, like the recent "The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army.'' The High also presents a film series offering classics, independents, and international films, such as the recent 12-film series "Treasures from India.'' Educational efforts from the High include lectures, live music, a children's gallery, Family Fun Days and lesson plans for teachers.

Reviewers of the High Museum on travel websites have mixed feelings. One New Yorker said, "The collection is small but we enjoyed it very much.'' Another visitor "thought their collection was lacking, it felt empty.'' Many people visited the museum during crowded special exhibits and complained that the lines and crowds were poorly organized and controlled. Those visitors who acknowledge that the High is a growing collection, not an established institution like those found in New York or Boston, seem pleased with the variety and quality of the works, and the architecture is universally a hit.

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