What caused the shake-up at the High Museum?


Art is on the move at the High Museum.

The Midtown destination has begun to disassemble its permanent collection in a six-month process that will end up rearranging almost everything on the walls, floors and pedestals.

The reinstallation is also a reassessment of the way the museum should look, and a chance for the High to integrate new acquisitions.

In 2005, the High more than doubled in space with the addition of three new buildings designed by Renzo Piano, including the Wieland Pavilion and the Anne Cox Chambers Wing. Since then, it has added 7,000 pieces to its permanent collection.

Those new works include a significant group by Thornton Dial and other self-taught artists, acquired from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, plus a monumental cut-paper installation by Kara Walker called “The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruin.” Neither Walker’s 60-foot-wide mural nor Dial’s works have yet been put on view at the High.

They will be given their first showing when the curtain rises on the reinstallation in October.

By that time, almost everything will have moved somewhere else, according to chief curator Kevin Tucker. Except perhaps that 20-foot-tall hand-painted china mosaic in the main lobby, “Physic Garden,” by Molly Hatcher. That thing is heavy.

Curators have studied visitors, to learn how they walk through the museum, and what they’re seeking.

Visitors look for significant pieces, and those will be placed at critical crossroads, to help point the way.

There will also be a communion between collections that have things in common. So, for example, the African art collection in the Stent Family Wing will brush up against the contemporary folk art — much of it by Southern African-Americans — across the Sky Bridge in the Wieland Pavilion.

Artwork will be organized sometimes thematically, sometimes chronologically, as the collection demands. And some holdings, for example the enormous photography collection, will have galleries of their own.

Design for the undertaking is being handled by New York City-based Selldorf Architects.

The reinstallation will create:

• A “black box” space on the top floor of the Anne Cox Chambers Wing for works from the new media collection.

• A new photography gallery in the Wieland Pavilion Lower Level for the High’s 7,000-plus photographs, including significant photos of the civil rights movement.

• Light abatement upgrades throughout the museum, to better protect light-sensitive artworks.

Light is a real concern in the Richard Meier-designed Stent Family Wing, which looks down on Peachtree Street and is perforated with windows.

All those windows seemed like a good idea in 1983, said Tucker, when museums were channeling natural light. But natural light can be a killer.

“It’s a very challenging thing for any architect to strike a balance of preservation needs, the viewing experience of the visitor and atmosphere,” said Tucker. “We’re looking at how we can mitigate light, especially in the Stent wing.”

Changes at the High will also include an expansion of the Greene Family Learning Gallery, a popular destination for families with young children on Toddler Thursday and Second Sunday events.

Located adjacent to the atrium in the Stent Family Wing, the gallery will expand to include a 2,000-square-foot space across the hall from its current footprint.

During the reinstallation, Toddler Thursday and other family activities will continue to take place, but some galleries have already begun closing. The Stent Family Wing, the High Café, and the Greene Family Learning Gallery will close on May 20, though the museum will continue to present public programs including First Fridays, Friday Jazz and Second Sundays.

Special exhibition galleries will remain open for the duration of the reinstallation.

The newly reorganized High will be revealed in October.



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