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PHOTOS: High’s John Portman retrospective to open Oct. 17

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Atlanta architect John Portman discussed his work with Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and his son, Jarel, at the High Museum of Art this week. AJC/Phil Skinner

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.)


A model of Portman's Atlanta home, Entelechy I. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

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.


This is a model of Portman's Sea Island, Georgia, home, Entelechy II. A painting and sculpture by him are in the background. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

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 will review this show soon for the AJC.)


A Portman painting is reflected in a piece of his sculpture. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

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.


Jenna Madison, the High's coordinator of museum interpretation, discussed the Tomorrow Square model in the High's exhibit. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

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,


This is the base of a model of a 151-story tower under construction in South Korea. When complete, it will be the second-tallest building in the world. AJC/Jamie Gumbrecht

10 comments Add your comment


January 29th, 2010
2:15 pm

Mr Portman’s works are so spectacular and sophisticated it makes one feel special seeing and walking through these fantastic creations. He makes the world’s cities better places to live, work, and enjoy life. His aesthetic is so subtle and so special he makes places come to life with sophistication, elegance, and energy. Many Americans lack the sophistication to understand, comprehend, and reflect on the significance and beauty of his works. Thanks Mr. Portman for being in a league of your own……The Best!

[...] got more photos in a gallery, and in this Inside Access post, where I offered more detailed info about what you’ll experience at the [...]


October 24th, 2009
12:37 pm

OZZFEST + IMPN, A few guys I know in Bay area who got taste can’t even get a loan to buy a condo let alone financing and designing giant hotels and offices in US and oversea. I agree with Joshua James about your comments.


October 23rd, 2009
10:32 pm

I think this is cool; An architect who knows how to take risks beyond traditional role.


October 19th, 2009
10:26 pm

I have always been a fan of his….he has done SO MUCH for downtown/Central Business District…..he contributed to putting Atlanta on the map. Some of his bldgs are reaching that ‘dated’ look…but give them another 30 years and they will be prized possessions. That is if Atlanta does not bulldoze them like the Carnegie Library or the Kimball House Hotel.

joshua james

October 19th, 2009
10:30 am

Ozzfest and IMPN……the man won the horatio alger award, the martin luther king award and has brought more than 30,000 jobs to the city of Atlanta. Elitist is not a word associated with someone of his ilk. As far as his art and architecture he has been recognized by Paul Goldberger of the New Yorker as one of the most influential architects of modern history……… maybe both of you should leave the critiques to those more qualified to render them. The man was a gift from god to atlanta and we should be grateful for his work.

Laura G. Thome

October 17th, 2009
6:36 am

Congratulations to a true visionary. Laura Green Thome


October 16th, 2009
2:12 pm

“There’s no accounting for taste.” That’s what my grandmother used to say when she saw something ugly and repulsive– much like the crap Portman has put out over the years. At least the newer works have less of his personal “flair” in their designs thanks to the contributions of newer associates. Too bad Atlanta was an early target for his experiments.


October 16th, 2009
11:50 am

Congratulations to the man who killed downtown Atlanta by taking people off the streets and putting them in skybridges. It is no wonder the dude lives on elitist SEA ISLAND.

I am sure he “skywalks” to his bedroom evrynight, over and past the fray of EVERYDAY PEOPLE.


[...] Art: “John Portman: Art and Architecture” opens, 10 a.m., High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Photos. [...]