The High Museum of Art hosted its second annual Collectors Evening on Friday, January 28. Participants voted to secure four new acquisitions for the Museum: Vik Muniz’s “Leda and the Swan, after Leonardo da Vinci” (2009); an African “Elephant Headress” (19th century); Spencer Finch’s “Bright Star (Sirius)” (2010); and Auguste-Jean-Baptiste Vinchon’s “Portrait of Nency Destouches” (1829). Additionally, after the formal voting, an attendee offered up four Delta Air Lines worldwide business-class tickets for bidding. The money raised through this impromptu auction allowed for the acquisition of the fifth piece, the limestone sculpture “Lamentation” (1946), by American artist Robert Laurent. An anonymous donor purchased the sixth and final piece for the folk art collection, Minnie Evans's untitled painting on paperboard (1968).
This event, established in 2010 to build and improve the Museum’s permanent collection, invites guests to take an active role in choosing the next work of art to join the permanent collection. During the evening, each of the High’s curators presents a work of art as a potential new acquisition for their collection. Guests then cast their votes and the High purchases the works of art that received the most votes.
More information about this year’s chosen works is below. African Art
The proposed work from the African art department is “Elephant Headress.” During the 19th century when this work was made, elephant masks were among the most prestigious of all the masquerades performed by groups of wealthy, titled men in the small Bamileke kingdoms of the Cameroon Grassfields. The elephant, like the leopard, was a royal symbol, though both elephants and leopards have long since become extinct in Cameroon. These two animals were also considered the alter egos of Bamileke kings, who were described as having the ability to transform into either creature at will. Elephant masks were referred to as “things of money” because they were profusely ornamented with glass beads made in Venice or Czechoslovakia. The acquisition of this work would strengthen the High’s holdings of African masks and the art of Cameroon as well as diversify the materials represented in our collection.
Robert Laurent’s limestone sculpture “Lamentation” (1946) is the proposed acquisition for the American art collection. Laurent was at the forefront of new trends and is often considered a link between the classicism of Beaux Arts sculptors and the abstractionists. His work is relatively rare, with much of it existing either in monumental size as public art or scattered among public and private collections. “Lamentation” was inspired by a dance of the same title choreographed by Martha Graham in 1930, in which the dancer is dressed in a sheath that at times covers and absorbs her entire body. For Laurent, as for Graham, the expression of “Lamentation” was intended to cross cultural boundaries and probe at the universal experience of grief. It would join the High as the first work by Robert Laurent and will complement the elegant, stylized forms of John Flannigan, William Zorach and Paul Manship; the cubist composition of Berta Margoulies; and the abstract work by Theodore Roszak already in the collection.
Auguste-Jean-Baptiste Vinchon’s “Portrait of Nency Destouches” (1829) is the proposed acquisition for the High’s European art collection. A mentee of Jacques-Louis David, Vinchon (1789–1855) maintained a level of success during his lifetime that rivaled his contemporaries Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault. Landscape paintings dominate his early career, and in 1819 he expanded his subject matter to include portraiture and historical scenes. “Portrait of Nency Destouches” most likely depicts the daughter of architect Louis Nicholas-Marie Destouches. Vinchon’s skill is evident in the way he uses light to illuminate Nency’s angelic cheeks, rosy lips and glowing skin. This portrait would be the first work by Vinchon to be acquired by the High and will expand the Museum’s collection to fuller illuminate the era of French Romanticism. Other examples of Vinchon’s works are in the collections of the Musée du Louvre and the Château de Versailles.
Minnie Evans is among the most highly regarded self-taught artists. Her elaborate painting on paperboard finished in 1968 is the proposed acquisition for the folk art collection. Evans’s drawings were inspired by the dreams and visions that came to her night and day. She layered nature and spirit, plant and animal, human and divine in symmetrical compositions of swirling intricacy. The proposed painting, an untitled work, is a collage comprising at least two earlier works: a drawing from 1946 and a mid-career drawing from 1951. This painting is larger and more elaborate than any of the five Evans works already in the High’s collection. It would also be the first example of Evans’s most fully realized creations, in which she completely covered the surface with the arabesques, plant forms and mask-like faces typical of her designs. Evans’s work is featured in many museum collections including The Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Folk Art Museum, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne and the Newark Museum.
Modern and Contemporary Art
The proposed work from the modern and contemporary art department is Spencer Finch’s “Bright Star (Sirius)” (2010). Finch, a New York-based artist, recently completed this work, which brilliantly illustrates what he has described as art’s ability to “ignite our capacity for wonder.” It is based on the star Sirius, otherwise known as the “Dog Star” because of its prominence in the constellation Canis Major (Big Dog). Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky due to its intrinsic luminosity and its proximity to earth, and is probably the inspiration for the nursery rhyme “Star Light, Star Bright.” Finch’s light sculpture replicates the bluish cast of Sirius as seen with the naked eye and measured by astronomical research by attaching colored gels of specific widths on fluorescent tubes at prescribed intervals. With this acquisition, the High would further its commitment to this increasingly important young artist and complement its core areas of Color Field and hard-edged abstraction holdings by extending those traditions to the present day with Finch’s light works, which are neurologically hardwired into our visual perception. In addition to the High, Finch’s work has been acquired by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, among others.
The photography department has proposed an acquisition of Vik Muniz’s “Leda and the Swan, after Leonardo da Vinci” (2009). Born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1961, Muniz works with unconventional materials—including sugar, tomato sauce, chocolate syrup, dust and garbage—to craft narrative subjects before recording them with his camera. To create “Leda and the Swan, after Leonardo da Vinci,” part of the artist’s “Pictures of Junk” series, Muniz placed his camera on a platform elevated by a crane high above a warehouse floor. Using the open space as a canvas, he employed impoverished art students from the outskirts of São Paulo to help him collect detritus from the city’s dumps and arrange it into the shape of a recognizable painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Seen from more than 40 feet above the floor, objects such as discarded hub caps, pipes, appliances and tires become the building blocks for an imaginative but ephemeral recreation of the celebrated Renaissance painting “Leda and the Swan.” Measuring approximately 7½ feet high, the photograph Muniz made of the sculptural arrangement remains the only permanent record of this amazing deed. Muniz’s work is included in the collections of leading national and international museums and was the subject of the award-winning documentary film “Wasteland” (2010). This would be the second photograph from the artist’s “Pictures of Junk” series to enter the High’s collection.
High Museum of Art
The High Museum of Art, founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association, is the leading art museum in the Southeastern United States. With more than 12,000 works of art in its permanent collection, the High Museum has an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American and decorative art; significant holdings of European paintings; a growing collection of African American art; and burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, photography and African art. The High Museum of Art is also dedicated to supporting and collecting works by Southern artists and is distinguished as the only major museum in North America to have a curatorial department specifically devoted to the field of folk and self-taught art. The High’s media arts department produces acclaimed annual film series and festivals of foreign, independent and classic cinema. In November 2005 the High opened three new buildings by architect Renzo Piano that more than doubled the Museum’s size, creating a vibrant “village for the arts” at the Woodruff Arts Center in midtown Atlanta. For more information about the High, please visit www.high.org.
The Woodruff Arts Center
The Woodruff Arts Center is ranked among the top four arts centers in the nation. The Woodruff is unique in that it combines four visual and performing arts divisions on one campus as one not-for-profit organization. Opened in 1968, the Woodruff Arts Center is home to the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art and Young Audiences. To learn more about the Woodruff Arts Center, please visit www.woodruffcenter.org.