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Gold rush

Modern art exhibition bears mark of astute collectors

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While Degas & America: The Early Collectors may be the headliner at the High Museum of Art this spring, a significant contemporary art exhibition is also on view. The Lenore and Burton Gold Collection of 20th Century Art represents 40 years of thoughtful, sometimes daring, acquisitions by an Atlanta couple deeply committed to art.

The Golds have long maintained a vital relationship with the High. Over the years, the late Lenore Gold continuously sought counsel from the museum's 20th century curators, Peter Morrin, Susan Crane and Carrie Przybilla, the current curator of modern and contemporary art. The Golds relished their role in the arts early on, joining the High's 20th Century Art Society and encouraging the museum to exhibit and collect contemporary art. Lenore, in particular, was fully engaged in developing the Atlanta art scene. Actively pursuing art for her own collection, they stimulated other local collectors.

The couple's donations to the institution's permanent holdings began in the 1970s. Of the 45 artworks in this show, 27 are promised gifts to the museum. "Taken cumulatively, the Golds' recent donations to the High's modern and contemporary art collection are certainly the most substantial from a single donor in such a short period of time and among the more generous donations ever made to that collection," says High spokeswoman Melissa Thurmond.

Przybilla designed the exhibition to accentuate the importance of each artist, starting at the entrance with Nancy Graves' "Rope Pull," from 1986. Accented in green, blue and orange, the lyric sculpture fuses abstract with figurative elements in a delightful airy composition of patinaed and enameled iron, steel and bronze.

The nearby "Price Tag #149" (1988) by Donald Lipski resembles the tusk of a great elephant or a trumpet. In fact, his wall-mounted work is a tight furl of layered white price tags, its curve encircled by one silver C-clamp. A vintage hypodermic syringe caps the pointed end. A florescent light sculpture by Dan Flavin (1973) glows yellow from the corner of one room. Viewers will come unexpectedly upon George Segal's signature, two white cast plaster figures. One seems about to enter the space through a blue door, while the other sits waiting in a chair.

A small room is dedicated to Alexander Calder. The couple was drawn to the late American artist's work early in their collecting. His whimsical gouache paintings and delicate cascading mobile appear to take notes from the massive Calder sculpture on the High's front lawn.

The Golds also collected the dimensional art of Louise Nevelson ("Shadows," 1959) and Christian Boltanski ("Monument/Odessa," 1990). Boltanski's installation, one of the more conceptual pieces in the show, is an assemblage of photographs, biscuit boxes, light bulbs, glass and electrical cords. Sculptural works in the collection include artists' books. Anne Hamilton's "Untitled (Stone Book)" from 1992 remains in the collection of Burt Gold, while Anselm Keifer's lead-paged "Brunhilde Sleeps" (1987) was given to the High in 1996.

Deborah Butterfield's "Untitled" horse sculpted from burnt, crushed steel and barbed wire documents a fascination with raw and found materials among contemporary artists. The Golds have collected John Chamberlain (crushed car parts), Mel Kendrick (pieced, pierced and grooved poplar) and Jin Soo Kim (chenille bedspread, paper and chair), as well. They found equally appealing Donald Judd's minimal modernism. In his untitled wall-mounted work from 1988, six aluminum and orange Plexiglas rectangles present a discretely nuanced vertical pattern.

Diverse paintings by Peter Halley, Donald Sultan, Jules Olitski, Mimmo Paladino and Julian Schnabel have made their way into the collection. Also a contemporary filmmaker, Schnabel (whose Before Night Falls is currently playing in Atlanta) is represented by a large velvet painting. His "He Mistook Kindness for Weakness" shares an expressionistic aesthetic with Paladino's "Room in a Tempest."

The limited number of works on paper include a handful of photographs. Imogene Cunningham's floral "Datura" was the Gold's first gift to the High in 1975. The 1930 floral print contrasts starkly with the social statements of Garry Winogrand's "Coney Island, New York," Lorna Simpson's "H.S." and Thomas Struth's "Museum of Modern Art I, New York," a 1994 print that is a playful look at people and how they experience art. This exhibition makes a dimensional statement on the same subject. The Golds have cycled high; as they moved from looking to contemplating to collecting to sharing, they've expanded Atlanta's exposure to exceptional contemporary art.

The Lenore and Burton Gold Collection of 20th Century Art continues through May 27 at the High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. www.high.org. 404-733-5000.

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