It’s a busy time at the High Museum of Art. It just opened its Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, and this weekend, it opens “John Portman: Art and Architecture,” a three-floor show of the Atlanta architect’s buildings and art works. (Here’s an interview with Portman, and more photos from the exhibit.)
It’s the first retrospectives art and architecture by Portman, an Atlanta native whose buildings define most of the city’s skyline. His list of local works spans from the 1960s to the 1990s: the Atlanta Hyatt Regency Hotel, Peachtree Center, the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, Atlanta Marriott Marquis and SunTrust Plaza, among others. Design elements we saw first here show up throughout later designs in the United States and around the world.
But the exhibit is personal, too, with models of his homes, and rooms full of sculpture and painting.
Indeed, Portman is a prolific artist, one who easily filled the High galleries. The pieces might reveal his style, recurring themes and apparent inability to rest, but the architecture is what made people linger during a press preview. (By the way, Catherine Fox of ArtsCriticAtl.com will review this show soon for the AJC.)
The second floor of the exhibit offered a deeper look at the Atlanta projects that launched Portman’s reputation. A model of the city gives a quick visual of just how much work he has done in Atlanta, while text on the walls details new ideas he made into standards.
More helpful is a short video that builds the Atlanta model and lays it onto a photograph of the city. If you go, don’t miss this — it’s tucked into a corner on the second floor. The models are interesting, but I wish the video was larger, more prominent and easier for more visitors to see at once.
A third floor shows off Portman’s international work, from Marina Square, a 1987 project in Singapore, to South Korea’s Incheon 151 Tower, a 151-story tower that’s currently under construction. That model is the most eye-catching, but a close second is the model for Il Porto Vecchio in Genoa, Italy. It’s the only model in the exhibit that never turned into a buliding; that commission was won by Renzo Piano, the same architect who designed the High’s 2005 expansion.
There’s a lot to learn about the architect and artist in this exhibit, but there’s more to learn about how Atlanta and other cities develop. The exhibit never addresses criticism of Portman’s designs, but it’s still an education in how one person can affect the way we live.
See it: Atlanta history buffs, the architecturally curious, model enthusiasts.
Skip it: Those who can’t look at miniature buildings without touching. This isn’t a hands-on exhibit, and those are definitely not dollhouses.
Want to go? “John Portman: Art & Architecture,” opens Oct. 17, continues through April 18, 2010. $11-18, free for members and children younger than 5. High Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-733-4444, www.high.org.