Diversity and Culture on Display at the High Museum

With finals quickly approaching and the weather turning colder, the possibilities of traversing off campus are growing slimmer. Still, Oxford students should make it a point to get out and explore Georgia outside our small campus walls or else subject themselves to a bout of cabin fever. One remedy is a visit to the High Museum of Art. Located in Atlanta’s midtown arts district, a trip to the High is a great way to get off campus, soak up some culture and escape from finals stress, if only just for a few hours.

The High’s permanent collection includes over 16,000 artworks, ranging from African Art, American Art, European Art, folk art, modern and contemporary art, design, and photography. The interior and exterior of the building are works of art in and of themselves. The three wings that make up the museum feature a lobby atrium of white concrete, spacious and naturally lit rooms, and a Guggenheim-esque spiral staircase that connects galleries.

The interior of the High Museum is clean and natural, allowing artwork to be the focus of attention. Photo Courtesy of: Elizabeth Greene

At the top of the museum is the collection of modern and contemporary works, an expansive, open hall with various galleries to wander throughout. Prominent artists featured include Alex Katz, Donald Judd, Anish Kapoor, and Julie Mehretu. The collection brims with works across various mediums, from abstract sculpture to pieces on canvases that take up entire walls. Some pieces are dynamic and colorful, arresting the attention of passerby. Other pieces are more nuanced and subtle, encouraging visitors to take a moment to stop and ponder them. Dynamism continues throughout the museum’s other collection areas. The High’s collection of European art includes Medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance paintings as well as numerous sculptures that fill the gallery space. Nearly everywhere you turn you seem to be face-to-face with a half-nude plaster figure.

Various works belonging to the modern and contemporary art collection. Photo Courtesy of: Elizabeth Greene
European sculptures arranged throughout the gallery space. Photo Courtesy of: Elizabeth Greene

Photography is an important hallmark of the High, as it constitutes the museum’s largest and fastest growing collection area. A manifestation of this is the current exhibition A Fire That No Water Could Put Out”: Civil Rights Photography. Tucked away in a small gallery adjacent to the modern and contemporary collection, the exhibit features over 40 photographs that explore the legacy of the civil rights movement and one of its main leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The photographs span the time of Dr. King’s leadership, the year of his death, and recent protests in the name of equal rights. Photographs of James Baldwin and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are powerfully placed alongside images of protests in Atlanta for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. The juxtaposition of different time periods coupled with the overarching struggle for equal rights is striking and thought-provoking. Though the exhibit is small, it has a distinctly large cultural relevance.

Photographs from “A Fire That No Water Could Put Out”: Civil Rights Photography. The exhibit is on view through May 27, 2018. Photo Courtesy of: Elizabeth Greene

Out of all the current exhibitions on display at the High, Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design stands as a highlight. Presented by the Vitra Design Museum and Guggenheim Bilbao, the touring exhibit is making its inaugural stop at the High. As described by the museum, the exhibit “offers a vision of Africa in the twenty-first century as a place of unbounded optimism, rapid growth, and massive culture transformation.” It is no easy task to display the massive talents of a continent into a single exhibition hall, yet the curators have designed an exhibit that attempts to give perspective on the artistic landscape of various African nations that ultimately succeeds in doing so. The exhibit includes works across a wide range of mediums, from graphic arts and illustrations to furniture design and fashion. A main theme that runs the course through the exhibit is liberation. After centuries of a Euro-centric view of Africa, the exhibit presents the work of African artists and creators unbounded by the restraints of western interpretation. The prologue to the exhibit states, “Africa is not just a continent, and it is certainly more than hunger, corruption, or a breathtaking landscape. Finally, African design covers a far more fascinating spectrum than recycling, traditional craft or humanitarian design.” The artwork stands alone and proudly so, aiming to redefine and reshape ingrained perceptions of what art and design from Africa look like. Some of the works are aesthetically beautiful, such as the assorted fashion pieces or the abstract eyewear that reflect the theme of shifting perspectives. Other works skew towards introspection on the African identity or have political or cultural significance.

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s joint project ‘Television, Ponte City’, a cultural exploration of a Johannesburg apartment building and the TV sets within it.
Photo Courtesy of: Elizabeth Greene
Various works on display in ‘Making Africa’ include fashion design, photography, and illustration. The exhibition is on view through January 7, 2018.
Photo Courtesy of: Elizabeth Greene

Overall, the ‘Making Africa’ is an exhibition that expands upon the exploration of culture and diversity that pervades throughout the displayed works in the museum. A visit to the High can serve any purpose the visitor wishes it to have. It can be a visit of deep cultural significance and appreciation of art that spans time periods and identities, or it can simply be a way to get off campus and away from familiar faces to spend some quiet time staring at art. Either way, the plaza outside the museum is currently a playground filled with merry-go-rounds, so why not plan a visit ASAP?

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