February 23, 2012

Do you like this?

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, my mother wasted no opportunity to vacate the bucolic confines of our Hixson suburb to connect with the cultural offerings of Atlanta. She was a painter and a lover of modern art, so the High Museum of Art was always a high for her. But as much as she tried, she failed to instill a sense of appreciation for museums in me and my father. Upon returning, my Dad would, after a few drinks, imagine himself a “Modern Master,” creating his own Sharpie masterpieces of astronomical value on a legal pad that would leave me in howls of laughter. Mother was not amused.

She did not live to discover that I grew not only to appreciate art, but to have visited some of the world’s finest museums—in Paris, New York, Los Angeles—and enjoy our city’s fine Hunter Museum as well. On a recent Daytripper jaunt to Atlanta, I rediscovered the High, fairly dripping in enthusiasm to view “Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters,” which opened last fall and continues through April 29. Do not miss this.

With more than 100 works from 14 seminal 20th century artists, even my former self could appreciate this exhibit. “Picasso to Warhol” is one of the largest concentrations of modern art masterpieces to ever be exhibited in the southeastern United States, and it is nothing less than a startling walk through art history.

The exhibit features less than 10 works from each artist, but the magic exists in encountering such  masterpieces like Picasso’s “Girl before a Mirror,” pictured at left, which opens the exhibit, and pairing them with examples of early, lesser known works one would not associate with the artist. It’s a rapid timewarp of evolving style, and utterly absorbing. And brief. But that’s the point, I suppose. Modern art has developed equally as rapidly. In no time, you’re viewing masterworks from Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian, Duchamp and Pollock, then Jasper Johns (the exhibit’s only living artist and its local connection—Johns was born in Augusta) and Warhol, whose pieces bookend the exhibit.

The highlights are many, but it’s the opportunity to view up close these pieces we know so well that delights. A print of Picasso’s “Girl before a Mirror,” hung in my childhood home. The graphic designer in me closely examined Mondrian’s “Composition No. II, with Red and Blue,” inspired by New York’s street grids. I laughed yet very much appreciated Duchamp’s ““In Advance of the Broken Arm,” an example of his “readymade” works—in this case, a simple snow shovel he signed, dated and declared “art”—suspended from the ceiling. I continue to regard Jackson Pollock as a serious man who was less serious about his best-known “drip” works. Johns’ work I regarded with a careful eye—he is, after all, still alive and creating. And I viewed in awe Warhol’s Campbell Soup can collection, as well as his silk-screened Brillo and Heinz boxes and self-portrait. I sat for longer than I expected watching his “Screen Test” films, short portraits of celebrity visitors to The Factory. Watching a young Lou Reed drink Coke at slow speed is more fascinating than you’d imagine.

The tour ends, of course, in the gift shop, where you’ll find countless examples of the masterpieces you’ve just viewed turned into tacky souvenirs. Or maybe not. I’d like to think Picasso—and certainly Warhol—would appreciate the cartoon finger-puppets in their images. I bought the exhibit poster, which is available in Picasso’s “Girl” or Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans. I asked the shopgirl which sold better. She crinkled her face and peered at me behind heavy black glasses and said, “It’s a matter of taste, isn’t it?” Exactly.


February 23, 2012

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