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Changes afoot

High hires new curator, plans to close downtown gallery


The High Museum has been acting a little snaky lately, shedding its old skin and revealing a shinier, tauter one underneath.

Four employees in the education department were laid off earlier this year and three key curators (in the folk art, photography and contemporary art departments) have left. And now the High is sloughing off some architecture. The downtown Folk Art and Photography Galleries will close in May 2005. All future photography and folk art exhibitions will appear at the museum's Midtown space.

But last week the High announced the hiring of a new curator of modern and contemporary art. Jeffrey Grove arrives from the Cleveland Museum of Art and is edgy enough to have written his doctoral dissertation on the self-portraiture of Robert Mapplethorpe.

With the $130 million Renzo Piano expansion opening in fall 2005, you know the High was probably sweating a little about who was going to select the art once the drywall went up.

"There is a sense of urgency," says chief curator David Brenneman, sounding relatively cool despite the fact that the photography curator position is still unfilled. Brenneman expects to name the replacement in the first of the year. Susan Crawley, a recent GSU master's graduate, has stepped in as associate curator of folk art.

So it's out with the old and in with the new, though not without a sense of profound melancholy. Merrill Elam, for one, is devastated by the shuttering of the Folk Art and Photography Galleries in the Georgia-Pacific Center.

The space was designed by the local husband-and-wife led architectural firm of Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects Inc. in 1986.

The serene, contemplative space, which won the architectural firm numerous regional and national awards, somehow sustained a wonderful balance, managing to be both spectacular and soothing. The space was invested with a sense of warmth and flow that made it an entirely different animal than the chilly, endless white spaces of Richard Meier's High Museum flagship on Peachtree.

But the consolidation of the High could also mean great things for the city and has the potential to make the High into the vibrant, full-service cultural art complex the renovation has promised.

The total exhibition space for folk art and photography will be greater in the newly expanded High facility. And in all honesty, the separate building for folk art and photography has often seemed something of a bastard stepchild to me, a place where the "questionable" forms of folk art and photography were segregated from the main institution.

Photography, in particular, is still not embraced by conservative audiences as a legitimate art form in the same way that painting and sculpture have been. Maybe by bringing photography back into the fold, the High will help expand its audience's horizons and do the crucial work of providing guidance and direction in refining local tastes rather than just reaffirming what has already been sanctified in art history books.

Rumors have been flying faster than grease off a McDonald's skillet at local art institutions about the anticipated 2005 opening of a Savannah College of Art and Design branch in Atlanta. Some worry about the possibility that the new art school in town will draw students and instructors away from places like the Art Institute of Atlanta, Kennesaw State University, the Atlanta College of Art and Georgia State University. But the worry may be premature, since picking faculty and students for a school is a secondary concern when you haven't even locked in a site. Though there has been some speculation that the former iXL building at 1600 Peachtree is the future home of SCAD-Atlanta, SCAD representatives say they in fact have not yet inked a deal for a site. So for now, talk of warm bodies to fill it is a bit theoretical.

Local photographer Bobby Abrahamson has created a unique photography project called "Our Voices" in conjunction with the Task Force for the Homeless, which gives Atlanta's homeless and transitional community instruction in black-and-white photography as a means of building empowerment and self-esteem. Abrahamson is hosting a benefit and silent auction at the Atlanta Photography Group Gallery in the Tula Art Center Dec. 10 from 7-10 p.m. where "Our Voices" participants will be in attendance. Money raised will go toward buying better cameras, film and setting up a darkroom at the Task Force.

Lisa Fischman, gallery director for Atlanta College of Art Gallery, has accepted a position as chief curator at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson. Fischman has been with the gallery for a little more than four years and brought some remarkable exhibitions to the space, including a wonderful solo show by New York artist Laylah Ali and the rollicking group show by the eponymous French art collective Buy-Sellf: Lick the Window. She will leave ACA in March 2005.


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