Folk Art at Atlanta’s High Museum

One thing I love to do when traveling is visit art museums. It tells me something about a city I can’t figure out any other way. I find that public art, which tends to be large and blocky or small and sentimental, doesn’t tell me as much about a city as the collections displayed in the large museums.

My favorite museum from our 2012 jaunt down the East Coast, by far, was the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. It’s a big, white, modern structure comprising three separate buildings in Midtown, on Peachtree Street. Glass walkways connect the central Wieland Pavilion to the small Anne Cox Chambers Wing and the Stent Family Wing, which houses the rounded atrium featured below.

High Museum of Art exterior, Atlanta, 2012

The High Museum has all the usual exhibits: European art from the fourteenth century through the present, American art from the eighteenth century through the present, modern art, arts and crafts contemporary art. But the exhibits that interested me the most were the African Collection

and the self-taught artists in the Folk Art section. One of the most prominent, perhaps, is the Reverend Howard Finster, who studded the reclaimed swampland around his home in Georgia with creations made from found objects.

Reverend Howard Finster angel and description, High Museum, Atlanta, 2012 (1)

“Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial” presented large found-object pieces such as Strange Fruit, a commentary on the 60 Minutes story that damaged his reputation, as well as the more intimate piece Surviving the Frost, a “portrait” of his wife (see featured image). Materials: industrial plastic, straw, metal, fabric, wire, nails, and enamel on canvas on wood.

Much of the folk art had religious themes, such as Church Revival by Carlton Garrett,

Church Revival, Carlton Garrett, High Museum, Atlanta, 2012 (1)

or mythological tendencies, such as this detail of Horse by Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack), which reminds me of a centaur. Or a bottle-cap Medusa.

Horse, Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack), High Museum, Atlanta, 2012 (1)

Perhaps what a museum tells me about a city has more to do with the art that intrigues me than the city itself. But here are my conclusions: that Atlanta, a testament to sprawl, is nevertheless a cosmopolitan city, confident enough exhibit local artists and the folk art of the South alongside European and American masters. (The High was the first general art museum in North America to hire a full-time curator for folk and self-taught art.)

The walkways tell me that nobody wants to go outside in the summer, and who could blame them?

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All the photos in this post, except the exterior shot of the museum, were taken with a BlackBerry.