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The High Museum in Atlanta is not just any big-city art museum. Yes, it has all the qualities that attract art aficionados:

  • A permanent collection boasting over 15,000 pieces including works from Durer and Monet, Warhol and Bellini
  • Award-winning architecture
  • A schedule full of lectures and events

But the High is MORE than just a leading art museum showing off an impressive art collection…

The High is the voice of Atlanta.

Cities are like people — each has its own energy, rhythm, and personality. But a city, unlike a person, cannot pick up a paintbrush or a lump of clay to express itself.

We cannot know how New York feels about the pace of modern life, or what Los Angeles thinks about racism, or Shanghai’s perspective on the iPhone…

Or can we?

The current exhibit SPRAWL! Drawing Outside the Lines (on now through October 4th at the High Museum) brings together over 75 Atlanta area artists in a sprawling exhibit… It features everything from Superman watercolors and modern plays on Warhol classics to gold-leafed “hybridized imagery.”

zgl1eBMdofOWi1rjGDY6AYrhHX1j8FbtDCJQrXErXhQnHPIeq9oxiXdI9BJLyyIVEos9mJ3N_cYD7XPnIbyYMIoQ1etCZNfDnf1uJpGaYoSe8PZH7dKYqv5aTwC_F9oJcIndividually, each piece in Sprawl! is engaging, beautiful, or thought-provoking… But COMBINE these works, and you get something that transcends any single artist or canvas.

By listening to all of the artists together,
you can hear the voice of Atlanta…

Michael Rooks, the curator of Sprawl! (as the curator of Modern and Contemporary Art for the High), has a long-term habit of trolling through artists’ studios all across Atlanta, hunting for the next great talent. As he watches local painters, sculptors, and designers develop, he engages in a dialogue with the community.

I wish every city in America had a curator like Michael, obsessively visiting art studios, talking to real artists, and putting on exhibitions of inventive, local work… How different would an exhibition of the art of Atlanta be from the art of Los Angeles, Chicago or Portland, Maine?

I was born and raised in the South. To me, Atlanta was always a big, shining, modern capital. It was the busy, bustling home of Coca-Cola, the Falcons, and Braves. It loomed large in my history books — from the Civil War to Civil Rights. To me, Atlanta was always larger-than-life. A little untouchable.

When I look at the works in Sprawl!, I’m not overwhelmed by high, unattainable, untouchable fine art… Instead, I see the endearing awkwardness of Josh (the guy in the Superman watercolor), how society has reproduced and stereotyped a girl named Norma Jean, and the humanity — joyous, funny, flawed, varied humanity — in Fabian Williams’ take on that Norman Rockwell classic Saturday Evening Post cover… lRCekC4bTmqUQZa-s5S9-pfPi1eUHHmw0bsiQ-SoU9IAnd when these pieces are all exhibited together — 116 works by 76 different artists — I begin to get a sense of the city that spawned that art…

Thanks to this exhibit, I no longer see an untouchable Atlanta; I see a real, strange HUMAN city.

I picture a curator leaving the confines of his air conditioned museum and traipsing through the city to visit art studios. I see a city of artists taking creative RISKS — exploding expectations of history, exposing genuine human emotion… When I think of artists taking risks, I used to think of New York or San Francisco or Detroit… now, I think of Atlanta as a city drawing outside the lines.

So, if you live in Atlanta and want to experience your city in a new way, or if you’re traveling through the area and want to get to know this Southern Capital a little better, stop by the High Museum… and hear the voice of the city.


Image credits:

Featured image: Fabian Williams (American, born 1975), Gossip, 2014, watercolor on paper, 8 × 10 inches. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with Antinori Fund, 2015.154.

Superman Watercolor: Abbie Merritt (American, founded 1987), Super Man (Josh), 2011, watercolor on paper, 24 × 24 inches. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with Antinori Fund, 2015.129.

Marilyn Monroe: Ashley Anderson (American, born 1982), Faux Sho, 2012, metallic ink and acrylic on paper, 28 1/2 × 28 inches. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with the Lambert Fund, 2014.291.

Michi Meko (American, born 1974), The Standard, 2014, drawing, acrylic, gold leaf, 30 × 22 1/2 inches. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with Antinori Fund, 2015.128.