Posted by: jahnavii0 | December 14, 2021

Review: Visit to Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, 20 November 2021

The Museum of High Art In Atlanta seems an artistic wonder from the outside itself. At 1280 Peach Tree in Atlanta, Georgia, a building grows out of the green as a stately wonder of different geometric shapes brought together by a common white color scheme. Drawn to the building that stands out uniquely in the heart of Atlanta, I find myself walking into the building to purchase a ticket, curious to explore what the inside might look like.

Outside the High Museum of Art, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The inside is as fascinating, fashioning art from across the years and from different histories and styles: traditional African art on the first floor is followed by American art, European art, photography as well as the wing that intrigued me the most — the modern art wing — a new installation added post the museum’s expansion in 2005. Given our study of visual material in our course this semester, I found myself paying particular attention to portraits as well as how people and human figures were staged in general in different artworks.

The museum is fashioned to walk audiences through more traditional art pieces from previous centuries first. We see Thomas Cole, Benjamin West, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Claude Monet, amongst a host of others. Having briefly studied Toulouse-Lautrec before, I am intrigued to check his posters a bit more. The posters fashion entertainers in cabarets, theaters, and dance halls. It is interesting to learn about the subjects that Toulouse-Lautrec picks and how he depicts them through his use of lithographs. A closer look reveals how Toulouse-Lautrec attempts to humanize and provide center-stage to his female subjects. In each image, they are the main focus: either in their placement, color, or the ways that different subjects interact with each other. Used commercially when they were created, Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters speak to mid-1800’s Paris and the place of entertainers in artistic circles, particularly female entertainers.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s Posters, picture taken during museum visit

As I continue touring the European art section, I notice a different style that captures the human figure quite varied to the style of Toulouse-Lautrec. German artist Max Beckman’s work titled ‘Madhouse’ uses etching to capture different human faces and half-body figures overlapping on the canvas. The etching wears a dull yet chaotic look of black and white, with all figures wearing somber and worn-out expressions. Done during the time of war, the use of his color, medium, and cramped style echo the pain and suffocation of the first world war that was taking place at the time.

Max Beckmann’s ‘Madhouse,’ picture taken during museum visit

When I came across some of the paintings that the museum houses for the 1800s American art, I saw a very different placement of the human figure compared to the closeup focused attention to it that either Toulouse-Lautrec or Beckmann gave their subjects. The human figure is minuscule, lost amidst the landscapes they are framed against. Thomas Cole’s ‘The Tempest’ is a prime example. Cole’s painting captures the sublime and beauty of American history and portrays a storm of the American frontier. Amidst this setting are three figures, one of them a dying woman clad in white. While at the heart of the painting, the figures themselves are tiny. This reflects the relationship between land and people that someone like Cole attempts to voice, showing the potential and opportunity of the American frontier as what was important to highlight at this time. Cole is not alone. William Davis’ ‘The Sick Horse’ and Richard Law Hisndale’s ‘Children in a Landscape’ capture tinier human figures against American landscapes. The surroundings and setting are what is essential to subjects and the American history of the time.

Thomas Cole’ The Tempest,’ picture taken during museum visit
William Davis’ ‘The Sick Horse’ and Richard Law Hisndale’s ‘Children in a Landscape,’ picture taken during museum visit

The most fascinating encounter was the modern wing, that fashions art that is quite different from previously mentioned techniques. Here, the human figure is seen in distorted ways and played with to convey different ideas. Modern art became a time of expression and the idea of ‘art for art’s sake.’ in this climate, it is interesting what the human figure meant for different artists. The following images are some of the examples that stood out to me. For example, Lonnie Holley’s ‘Finally Getting Wings for the Forty-First Floor’ takes everyday material to create what resembles the side profile of a human figure out of wire and other material. Similar is Holley’s ‘What’s on the Pedestal Today?’, a tall pillar-like piece embellished with objects such as hairbrushes, glass bottles, and mirrors. Holley argues that these are critical for the modern consumer to build how they wish to be perceived. I think it is particularly fascinating to look at how the art piece can almost be read as a standing human figure. Instead of bodily features, there are these objects, marking Holley’s commentary on what actually makes up how we view or project ourselves.

Lonnie Holley’s ‘Finally Getting Wings for the Forty-First Floor,’ picture taken during museum visit
Holley’s ‘What’s on the Pedestal Today?, picture taken during museum visit
Picture taken during museum visit

Here are some more interesting distortions of the human figure. The use of different colors, materials, and styles stood out to me in marking how artists used art in their own ways and to express their own ideas and create certain ideas on identities. While I was unable to source the background of some of the following pictures, i included them as they are in line wit this artistic expression of the modern era.

Picture taken during museum visit
Picture taken during museum visit
Picture taken during museum visit

In my pursuit of human figures across the museum, I was particularly fascinated by the different ways artists considered human figures, be it in terms of importance and what the subject meant to them as well as what they wished to say about them and how. I hope you find them as fascinating as I did! 

Works Cited: High Museum of Art, https://high.org. 


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