|Location||1280 Peachtree Street NE
|Director||Randall Suffolk (2015- )|
|Public transit access||Arts Center station|
The High Museum of Art (colloquially the High), located in Atlanta, is the leading art museum in the Southeastern United States. Located on Peachtree Street in Midtown, the city's arts district, the High is a division of the Woodruff Arts Center. In 2010 it had 509,000 visitors, 95th among world art museums.
The museum was founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association. In 1926, the High family, for whom the museum is named, donated their family home on Peachtree Street to house the collection following a series of exhibitions involving the Grand Central Art Galleries organized by Atlanta collector J. J. Haverty. Many pieces from the Haverty collection are now on permanent display in the High. A separate building for the museum was built adjacent to the family home in 1955.
On June 3, 1962, 106 Atlanta arts patrons died in an airplane crash at Orly Airport in Paris, France, while on a museum-sponsored trip. Including crew and other passengers, 130 people were killed in what was, at the time, the worst single plane aviation disaster in history. Members of Atlanta's prominent families were lost including members of the Berry family who founded Berry College. During their visit to Paris, the Atlanta arts patrons had seen Whistler's Mother at the Louvre. In the fall of 1962, the Louvre, as a gesture of good will to the people of Atlanta, sent Whistler's Mother to Atlanta to be exhibited at the Atlanta Art Association museum on Peachtree Street.
To honor those killed in the 1962 crash, the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center was built for the High. The French government donated a Rodin sculpture The Shade to the High in memory of the victims of the crash.
In 1983, a 135,000-square-foot (12,500 m2) building designed by Richard Meier opened to house the High Museum of Art. Meier won the 1984 Pritzker Prize after completing the building. The Meier building was funded by a $7.9 million challenge grant from former Coca-Cola president Robert W. Woodruff matched by $20 million raised by the museum. Meier's highly sculptural building has been criticized as having more beauty than brains. For example, constructed with white concrete, the lobby, a giant atrium in the middle of the building's cutaway cube, has almost no exhibition space, and columns throughout the interior restrict the way curators can display large works of modern art. Also with the atrium being just one of four quadrants, it's viewed as a luxuriously structured, but vacant pathway leading to the other exhibits, which is quite a shame when considering how radiant and light-filled the room is. At 135,000 square feet (12,500 m2), the Meier building has room to display only about three percent of the museum's permanent collection. Although the building officially contains 135,000 square feet, only about 52,000 square feet (4,800 m2) is gallery space.
The Meier building, now the Stent Family Wing, was termed Director Gudmund Vigtel's "crowning achievement" by his successor Michael Shapiro. During Vigtel's tenure 1963-1991, the size of the museum's permanent collection tripled, endowment and trust funds of more than $15 million were established, the operating budget increased from $60,000 to $9 million and the staff expanded from four to 150.
In 2005, Renzo Piano designed three new buildings which more than doubled the museum's size to 312,000 square feet (29,000 m2), at a cost of $124 million. The Piano buildings were designed as part of an overall upgrade of the entire Woodruff Arts Center complex. All three new buildings erected as part of the expansion of the High are clad in panels of aluminum to align with Meier's original choice of a white enamel façade. Piano's design of the new Wieland Pavilion and Anne Cox Chambers Wing features a special roof system of 1,000 light scoops that capture northern light and filter it into the skyway galleries.
The High Museum of Art's permanent collection includes more than 15,000 artworks across seven collecting areas: African Art, American Art, decorative arts and design, European art, folk and self-taught art, modern and contemporary art, and photography. More than one-third of the High's collection was acquired after the museum announced its plans for expansion in 1999. Highlights of the collection include works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Claude Monet, Martin Johnson Heade, Dorothea Lange, Clarence John Laughlin, and Chuck Close. In 1958, 29 Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculptures from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation were donated, establishing the core of the High's European art collection. Highlights of the Kress gift include Giovanni Bellini's Madonna and Child, Tommaso del Mazza's Madonna and Child with Six Saints and Tiepolo's Roman Matrons Making Offerings to Juno (c. 1745-50). The European art collection also includes Late Medieval Italian paintings by Paolo di Giovanni Fei, Niccolo di Segna and Italian Renaissance paintings by Francesco di Giorgio, Girolamo Romani, and Vittore Carpaccio, as well as French paintings by Nicolas Tournier, Charles-André van Loo, Eugene Fromentin, Alexandre Decamps, Alfred Dehodencq, Luc-Olivier Merson, Jean Corot, Frédéric Bazille, Camille Pissarro, Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and Chaim Soutine. European sculpture holdings include works by Giovanni Minnelli ("Saint Sebastian"), François Rude, Pierre Hébert ("Honore de Balzac"), Jean-Joseph Carriès, and Medardo Rosso.
The American art collection includes 18th-, 19th- and 20th- century American paintings by Ralph Earl, Charles Wilson Peale, John Copley, Benjamin West, Thomas Cole, George Henry Durrie, Jasper Cropsey, John Kensett, Thomas Doughty, John Quidor, George Inness, Albert Bierstadt, George Henry Yewell, Alfred Cornelius Howland, L. Birge Harrison, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Lilla Cabot Perry, Frederick Frieseke, Childe Hassam, Gaines Ruger Donoho, Elihu Vedder, Ernest Lawson, John Sloan and George Luks. American sculpture holdings include works by William Rush, Erastus Palmer, Hiram Powers, William Story, and Chauncey Ives. The High's modern and contemporary art collection features works by Donald Judd, Alex Katz, Richard Artschwager, Sean Scully, Ellsworth Kelly, Anish Kapoor, and Julie Mehretu.
The High is home to the most robust photography program in the southeastern United States. The museum began acquiring photographs in the early 1970s, making it one of the earliest American art museums to commit to collecting the medium. Today, photography is the largest and fastest-growing collection at the High. With more than 6,000 prints, holdings focus on American work of the 20th and 21st centuries, with special strength in modernist traditions, documentary and contemporary photography. Holdings include the most significant museum collection of vintage civil rights-era prints in the nation as well as important groups of photographs by Harry Callahan, Clarence John Laughlin, William Christenberry, Ralph Gibson, Richard Misrach, Walker Evans, Peter Sekaer, Abelardo Morell and Wynn Bullock. The collection also gives special attention to pictures made in and of the South, serving as the largest and most significant repository representing the region's important contributions to the history of photography. Since 1996, the High's distinctive "Picturing the South" initiative has commissioned established and emerging photographers to produce work inspired by the area's geographical and cultural landscape. Past participants include Sally Mann, Dawoud Bey, Emmet Gowin, Alex Webb and Alec Soth, whose commissions have all been added to the High's permanent collection.
The High places special emphasis on supporting and collecting works by Southern self-taught artists, such as Lizzie Wilkerson and Howard Finster, and includes a contextual installation of sculpture and paintings from Finster's Paradise Gardens. The museum includes a curatorial department specifically devoted to the field of self-taught art, a distinction unique among North American museums.
Special exhibitions at the High feature strong global partnerships with other museums such as the Louvre and with the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Opificio delle pietre dure in Florence. In 2008, the museum inked an US$18 million deal for Louvre Atlanta, a three-year revolving loan of art from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, resulting in the museum's highest attendance ever. Its most popular individual show was 2009's Louvre Atlanta: the Louvre and the Masterpiece.
From 1963, Gudmund Vigtel led the High as director for 28 years, overseeing its transformation from a regional institution housed in a simple brick building into one of the nation's most successful art museums, and shepherding its move to its building designed by Richard Meier. Ned Rifkin served as the museum's director between 1991 and 2000. During the tenure of director Michael E. Shapiro between 2000 and 2014, the museum nearly doubled the number of works in its permanent collection, acquiring important paintings by 19th and 20th century and contemporary artists. The High raised nearly $230 million during that time, increasing its endowment by nearly 30 percent and building an acquisition fund of nearly $20 million. In July 2015, the High Museum of Art announced that it had selected Randall Suffolk to be its new director. Suffolk began his tenure in November 2015.