Happiness Is ... The High Museum of Art

A patron reads description of Virgil Abloh's iconic fashion shows.
Photo by Bonnie M. Moré

If you're looking for something to do with your family or out-of-town visitors during the holidays, head over to the High Museum of Art. The High is the leading art museum in the Southeastern United States and currently there are three amazing exhibits that offer something to please everyone.  It's rare and wonderful to experience collections of works by Romare Bearden, Sally Mann and Virgil Abloh in one place!  I was invited to preview and photograph all three.  Highlights below:

Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech

 “Virgil Abloh: ‘Figures of Speech’”  (Nov. 12, 2019–March 8, 2020), is the first museum exhibition devoted to the work of the modern, genre-bending artist and designer who became creative director of Louis Vuitton.  The exhibition focuses on Abloh’s creative process, collaborative work and pioneering discipline, which ranges across media and connects visual artists, musicians, graphic designers, fashion designers and architects.

The works on view offer an in-depth look at the defining highlights of Abloh’s career, including his recent designs for the Louis Vuitton menswear collection, video documentation of his most iconic fashion shows and his distinctive furniture and graphic design work.

Abloh trained in engineering and architecture, and from an early age, cultivated an interest in music, fashion and design. While pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, he connected with then-emerging Kanye West, joining a fledgling creative team to work on album covers, concert designs and merchandising. Abloh applied the experience he had gained working with West to his own stand-alone fashion brand, Off-White™, which he established in Milan, Italy, and presented at the seasonal shows of Paris Fashion Week alongside luminaries of the high fashion world.

An artist who is always looking for new inspirations, Abloh takes an approach to fashion that is prompted equally by contemporary art, his architectural training, and the style-conscious world of music. He uses the codes of fashion to deconstruct modes of dress in a playful, Duchampian style. His inspiration began with the readymade of streetwear in urban centers like Chicago, where looks emerge spontaneously and organically from trend-setting youth. Likewise, his work celebrates the ethos of street fashion, where high culture is appropriated, sometimes corrupted, and served up as something fresh and new.

Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., Director
welcomes select media to the Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech exhibition.

A mural describes Abloh's influences.

Virgil Abloh and friends.

"You're Obviously In The Wrong Place." 

Abloh's Nike designs.

Abloh merchandise is for sale at the end of the exhibition.

Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings

For more than 40 years, Sally Mann has made experimental, elegiac and hauntingly beautiful photographs that explore the overarching themes of existence: memory, desire, death, the bonds of family and nature’s indifference to human endeavor.  Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, “Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings” (Oct. 19, 2019–Feb. 2, 2020) presents figure studies, landscapes and architectural views that are united by their common origin and inspiration in the American South. Using her deep love of her homeland and her knowledge of its historically fraught heritage, Mann asks powerful, provocative questions—about history, identity, race and religion—that reverberate across geographic and national boundaries.

The exhibition is co-curated by the High’s recently appointed Donald and Marilyn Keough Family Curator of Photography Sarah Kennel (previously with the Peabody Essex Museum), who developed the project with Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs at the National Gallery.

“Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings” investigates how Mann’s relationship with the South—a place rich in literary and artistic traditions but troubled by history—has shaped her work. The exhibition brings together 109 photographs, including new and previously unpublished work, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog that offers an in-depth exploration of the evolution of Mann’s art.

Organized into five sections—Family, The Land, Last Measure, Abide with Me and What Remains—the exhibition opens with works from the 1980s, when Mann began to photograph her three children at the family’s remote summer cabin on the Maury River near Lexington, Virginia. Made with an 8-x-10-inch view camera, the family pictures refute the stereotypes of childhood, offering instead unsettling visions of its complexity. Rooted in the experience of the natural environment surrounding the cabin—the Arcadian woodlands, rocky cliffs and languid rivers—these works convey the inextricable link between the family and their land and the sanctuary and freedom that it provided them.

The final section of the exhibition explores themes of time, transformation and death through photographs of Mann and her family. Her enduring fascination with decay and the bodys vulnerability to the ravages of time is evident in a series of spectral portraits of her childrens faces and intimate photographs detailing the changing body of her husband, Larry, who suffers from muscular dystrophy.

Sally Mann exquisitely captures fog in this photograph.

Mann pays homage to the work of nineteenth-century French photographer Gustave Le Gray by making this photograph in Fountainebleau State Park in Louisiana.

Sally Mann explains her creative process in a short film.

Patron admiring Sally Mann's photography.

Sally Mann's exhibit fills the entire Anne Cox Chamber's wing
at the High Museum of Art.

Romare Bearden: Something Over Something Else

In September, the High Museum of Art premiered “Something Over Something Else: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series,” the first exhibition to bring dozens of works from the eminent series together since its debut nearly 40 years ago. Following its presentation at the High (Sept. 14, 2019 through Feb. 2, 2020), the exhibition will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum (Feb. 28–May 24, 2020).

In November 1977, The New Yorker magazine published a feature-length biography of Bearden (American, 1911– 1988) by Calvin Tomkins as part of its “Profiles” series. The article brought national focus to the artist, whose rise had been virtually meteoric since the late 1960s. The experience of the interview prompted Bearden to launch an autobiographical collection he called “Profile.” He sequenced the project in two parts: “Part I, The Twenties,” featuring memories from his youth in Charlotte, N.C., and in Pittsburgh, and “Part II, The Thirties,” about his early adult life in New York. For the series’ exhibitions in New York in 1978 and 1981, Bearden collaborated with friend and writer Albert Murray on short statements for the pieces, which were scripted onto the walls to lead visitors on a visual and poetic journey through the works.

Inspired by the High’s recent acquisition of a key work from the series, “Something Over Something Else” is the first exhibition to reassemble more than 30 collages from the series. The exhibition design references the experience of the series’ original gallery presentations by incorporating their handwritten captions into the accompanying wall texts. The project is cocurated by Stephanie Heydt, the High’s Margaret and Terry Stent Curator of American Art, and Bearden scholar Robert G. O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.

Bearden presented the “Profile” series as a shared history—his reflection on a life path that follows the journey of migration and transition in black communities across the mid-20th century. The series is an origin story that tracks Bearden’s transition from rural South to urban North, weaving his personal history into a communal one.

Beyond providing the opportunity to explore an understudied body of work, the exhibition investigates the roles of narrative and self-presentation for an artist who made a career of creating works based on memory and experience. It also reveals some of Bearden’s broader inspirations, which lend insight into American life in the first decades of the 20th century.

Heydt was inspired to develop the exhibition in 2014 when the High acquired “Profile/Part II, The Thirties: Artist with Painting & Model” (1981), the culminating work in the series and one of Bearden’s only known self-portraits. The collage, which features prominently in the exhibition, is a retrospective work in which Bearden brings together important memories and spiritual influences from his youth in the South with broader art-historical themes that guided his career for more than four decades.

The exhibition is arranged roughly chronologically according to the original presentations, moving from collages featuring Bearden’s early memories to works exploring his development as an artist in New York. Thematically, the subjects range from neighbors, friends, music and church to work, play, love and loss. The works also vary greatly in size. Though some are large, many are diminutive, a deliberate choice by Bearden to convey his experience of revisiting childhood memories.

In addition to the wall texts by Bearden and Murray, the galleries feature an original copy of The New Yorker article and the catalogues from the 1978 and 1981 gallery exhibitions. Clips from the 1980 documentary “Bearden Plays Bearden,” directed by Nelson E. Breen are also shown.

The layered entrance of "Something Over Something Else."

This piece reflect a part of Bearden's Pittsburgh memories.

Patrons viewing Bearden's collages.

Jazz was a huge part of Bearden's life.

The rooftops of Bearden's childhood are reflected in his art.

The Curators.

Romare Bearden and Albert Murray.

For more information, visit www.high.org.

Photography by www.bonniemoret.com.


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