A New High

Atlanta’s newly expanded art museum is worth a trip for the architecture alone.

By:Jay Boyar
   Next time you’re in Atlanta — for more than just an airport stopover, that is — you’ll want to visit the High Museum of Art.
   You say you’ve already been? Not a surprise. After all, the High is the Southeast’s premiere art space, celebrated not only for its eclectic exhibitions but also for its architectural excellence.
   Even if you’ve done the High, though, you’ll want to go again because the museum has just doubled its size to 312,000 square feet. Starting with the much-admired original structure, designed by Richard Meier, Italian architect Renzo Piano has added three new buildings and a public piazza — at a cost of $109 million.

Also New in Atlanta
Georgia Aquarium

   Billed as the largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium opened with a splash in November. The spectacular 505,000-square-foot facility in downtown Atlanta holds more than 100,000 sea creatures and 8 million gallons of water. Ralph and Norton, the stars of the place, are whale sharks named for the blue-collar characters that Jackie Gleason and Art Carney created on The Honeymooners. Like their namesakes, these astonishing creatures aren’t in color; their bodies are gray with pale spots. One reason for all the fuss is that these two are the only members of their species on display outside of Asia. Other aquarium favorites include African penguins, beluga whales, cownose rays and far too many more to mention. For information, visit georgiaaquarium.org

Inside CNN Atlanta

   CNN has long been a fixture on the Atlanta scene and so has the tour of its facilities. But the tour was recently revamped, to the tune of $5.5 million, and the new version was unveiled last June to coincide with the network’s 25th anniversary. New features include a huge globe atop the network’s famous atrium escalator, billed as the longest free-standing escalator in the world. Also new are interactive kiosks, a control-room stop and a big-screen finale featuring Larry King and his colleagues effusing about their mission as reporters — and, of course, about how lucky they are to work for CNN. For information, visit www.cnn.com/studiotour

Atlantic Station

   This 138-acre live-work-play development is built on the site of the former Atlantic Steel Mill in mid-town Atlanta. People have been living there for at least a couple of years. But after Atlantic Station’s retail area opened just a few months ago, tourists started flocking. Like Soho in Manhattan or D.C.’s Georgetown, Atlantic Station is the sort of place where you can dine and shop in style. Public art and special events liven things up while the attractive red-brick buildings pay homage to the area’s origins as a steel mill. Underground parking and an effective shuttle system simplify the logistics. For information, visit www.atlanticstation.com

— Jay Boyar

   "It’s marvelous and really a new museum," Henri Loyrette, director of the Louvre, told The New York Times. And Mr. Loyrette has a special reason to be interested: Beginning this fall, works from the Louvre will be shown in one of the High’s new buildings.
   Just walking through the new High is, well, a new high. You move from airy structure to airy structure through glass-enclosed walkways that offer a cleansing of the aesthetic palate — a refreshing glimpse of the real world before plunging, once again, into the mysteries of art.
   The additional space allows the museum to highlight its permanent collection, says Sylvia Yount, curator of American art. She’s thrilled that the High can now "show contemporary art, which is something we could never do" with just one building.
   In the permanent collection, you’ll find works by everyone from Monet to Man Ray and beyond. Georgia O’Keeffe is represented by the vivid "Red Canna," an oil painting of a flame-bright orange flower that seems almost indecently close and open.
   Outside, in the piazza area, you’ll immediately notice "House III," a paint-on-aluminum work by Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. It looks like a cartoon drawing of a house, enlarged and transplanted to the real world.
   "Children just gravitate toward it," says High publicist Caroline Forquer. "There must be a magnet in it."
   In addition to such works from the permanent collection, there’s a show, through March 12, featuring Henry Inman’s portraits of Southeastern Native Americans, and another show, through May 1, of Jo Davidson’s Spanish Civil War bronzes. Through April 2, you can also check out an exhibit about the work of architect Piano, including his design for the new High itself.
   And if you hurry, you can still catch the museum’s major inaugural exhibit, Andrew Wyeth: Magic & Memory, on view through Feb. 26. (That exhibit travels to the Philadelphia Museum of Art March 29.)
   "A complex meditation on life, death, memory and loss," is how museum director Michael E. Shapiro has described one Wyeth painting, and his words can apply to the entire show. As curator Yount strolls through the exhibition, she adds that "the inevitably of mortality" is the artist’s great theme.
   There’s so much to see that you’ll want to spend at least a couple of hours. Plan to take a leisurely break at Table 1280, a new brasserie and tapas lounge just across the piazza. Sip a glass of wine while you fortify yourself with a truffle chicken salad sandwich or roasted pumpkin and chanterelle mushroom risotto.
   Since it was unveiled in November, the museum’s makeover has been eliciting accolades from all quarters.
   "The High’s new galleries — particularly the ones on the top floor, which are bathed in natural light filtered through an unusually effective skylight system — are an absolute joy to walk through," raved Christopher Hawthorne in the Los Angeles Times. And not long ago, on a weekday afternoon, 17-year-old Danielle Litton, an Atlanta art student and aspiring artist, could also find much to praise. She was especially taken with "Balzac Petanque," an arresting assemblage of giant plastic peaches and pears by Pop artist Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen.
   "Art culture is really, really important, and we don’t learn enough about it in our classes in school," offered Danielle. "That’s why I’m here."
   Now that’s what you call High praise.
The High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta, Ga., is open Tues.-Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs-Fri. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Admission costs $15, $12 seniors/students, $10 ages 6 to 17. For information, call (404) 733-4400. On the Web: www.high.org