Linking Art to the Games Paintings and Sculptures Run the Gamut of Human Emotions at Atlanta's High Museum

By Robert W. Duffy Culturaly News Editor Of The Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Linking Art to the Games Paintings and Sculptures Run the Gamut of Human Emotions at Atlanta's High Museum


Robert W. Duffy Culturaly News Editor Of The Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Rings: Five Passions in World Art

Where: The High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, Ga.

When: July 4-Sept. 29

Hours: July 4-Aug. 4 - 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily / Aug. 5-Sept. 29 - Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Monday

Tickets: Admission is $10; discounts available for groups

Information: (404) 733-4400

THE BOXER who took home the prize from the Greater Panathenaia games in the fourth century B.C. era won a generous supply of olive oil pressed from the fruit of trees in a grove the ancients regarded as special to the goddess Athena.

The oil was contained in a terra-cotta vessel, just under 3 feet tall. Although one hesitates to call it a knockout for fear of being disrespectful or guilty of making a pun, the description obtains.

Tall, shapely, elegant, heroic in its own way, and winning, the jar is as fresh as it must have been when its potter, Nikodemos, signed his name to it almost 2,500 years ago.

The effort that brought the Panathenaic Amphora and about 130 other works of art to Atlanta for the Olympic Games was extraordinary. Many of the objects are of great rarity and delicacy. With only a couple of exceptions, all of them rank among the great masterpieces of human industry.

Called "Rings: Five Passions in World Art," the elegantly installed exhibition occupies the top two floors of the four-story Richard Meier-designed High Museum of Art. Getting it to Atlanta has occupied the museum's staff for almost two years. Michael E. Shapiro, former chief curator of the St. Louis Art Museum and now deputy director of the High Museum, was a key player in the organization of the show, which opens Independence Day.

Last Sunday, when the weather outside suffocated the city with a hot wet blanket, when the Braves beat the Giants 1-0 under a merciless sun, when Michael Johnson broke a 17-year-old world record in the 200-meter dash, members of the staff of the museum worked around the Greek jar, which was in place, and brought in other objects that make up the exhibition. They also painted walls, detoured around half-installed carpeting, set lights, hung curtains, opened and moved crates, and double-checked exhibition floor plans.

They shared a quietly fierce intensity, the sort you recognize in the faces of people who confront emergencies. There were deadlines to be met at the museum, their heads rearing higher every minute.

J. Carter Brown - curator of the exhibition, aesthete, genius, politician, Solomon and amiable foreman all at once - was the calm in the middle of this rarified cyclone, considering problems as basic as the installation of that new carpeting to some extremely tricky business with candlepower, business that might transform itself into trouble on oriental and occidental fronts.

That is, however, show business. If the show doesn't cause problems and cause controversy and cause headaches and start fights, it probably isn't worth the effort anyway.

There are targets painted on this show. Why risk moving rare and delicate objects this far? What is the point of a show that makes no intellectual point, at least in the traditional, narrow art-historical way? Isn't this just the rich and well-connected Carter Brown showing off again?

Such critical arrows have been drawn from the quiver of the art establishment, which always has a bow at the ready. No matter; Brown laughs it all off, or dismisses it. No matter how accurately and eloquently the critics and the colleagues in the art history departments and the museum business hit their bull's-eyes, nothing negative, written or spoken, is going to make much of a difference anyway.

That is because Carter Brown has brought the incandescent torch of the visual arts into the middle of the centennial playing of the modern Olympics with a triumphant grace that one can only cheer, or perhaps even bow before. …

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