Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The High Does It Right
As its own director, Michael Shapiro, has conceded, the High Museum of Art will never have a collection comparable to the great American museums that had a head start collecting on a grand scale. But what it does have, including particularly strong holdings of folk art and decorative arts, is now arrayed intelligently, even thought-provokingly, with admirable integration of all media---paintings, works on paper, sculpture.
Overseen by the High's chief curator, David Brenneman, this chronological reinstallation corrects major gaffes by the previous director, Ned Rifkin, whose ill-conceived thematic rehang was inspired by the much debunked "Rings: Five Passions in World Art" (an exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art's former director, the late J. Carter Brown, in conjunction with the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta). The thematic straitjacket exiled major works to storage, because they didn’t conform with the concepts.
Brenneman told me that he tried to juxtapose "works that talk to each other" and he succeeded. He also opined that the High is "a community museum at heart."
As such, it should place more emphasis on community-based projects---those conceived by its very capable in-house curatorial talent, rather than those packaged by money-driven purveyors of blockbusters.