The High Museum of Art is known for the historical and international exhibits it brings to the city—Salvador Dali, the Modernists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and most recently, Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring and other Dutch masterpieces. But an exhibit just downstairs from that one focuses much closer to home.
Drawing Inside the Perimeter is a group show, gathering more than 50 works by over 40 artists from around Atlanta—some new and emerging, and some, like artist Robert Sherer, who are more well-established. Sherer’s been here since 1979 and standing in the gallery space, in front of his work, he seems at once right at home and overwhelmed.
“You can’t explain the depth of emotion that I’m feeling at this moment,” he says.
This is the kind of show that before now, you were more likely to find in a small gallery, or a contemporary art museum. So for Sherer and the others represented, seeing Atlanta artists on the walls of the High Museum is a big deal.
Andy Moon Wilson is another artist in the exhibit. He says the High Museum is “obviously the anchor, the cornerstone of the Atlanta art community. It was less so, maybe a several years ago, but since Michael Rooks has come on-board, it’s started to take maybe more of a central role in the life of the arts community; it’s really good to see.”
Michael Rooks is the man behind Drawing Inside the Perimeter, he’s the Wieland Family Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at the High Museum.
All the work on display in Drawing Inside the Perimeter has been acquired by the High for their permanent collection. Speaking with artists around the gallery, the general consensus is that the museum is doing well in their efforts to reach out to the city that it is a part of—with a half-joking sentiment that it’s maybe about time.
“Yeah, it hasn’t been a focus recently,” Rooks admits, “but it’s not new necessarily to the High Museum. Maybe a couple decades ago, a guy named Peter Morrin was in my position, and he was very much so plugged into the local art scene.“
Rooks’ intention is to continue that work. He has focused on collecting drawings.
“We have a big mandate,” he says, “because we’re a general museum. We’ve got seven departments. So we can’t be everything to everyone in the city.”
So he’s zeroed in on one medium through which to represent the array of talent working in Atlanta. He’s been able to do so over the past two years thanks to the Lambert Fund—named for Marianne Lambert, who’s been a champion of art in Atlanta—art in Georgia.
“She’s introduced me to a great deal of artists who have been working here for decades,” says Rooks.
The focus of the acquisitions and of this exhibition, as the title might suggest, is drawing. Many of these artists are approaching the idea of drawing in unconventional ways. Robert Sherer, for example explains his work, titled Hookups.
“I did some research and was able to determine what insect Biblical scholars believe led to the Biblical plague,” Sherer says. “So I went to a rubber stamp company and had them make a rubber stamp of that Biblical locust and had some friends donate blood. And I stamped a swarm of these insects. And one of the bugs is HIV positive because I wanted to show that …we can’t determine what people’s HIV status is simply by looking at them.”
Sherer says that only he knows which locust is HIV positive…and he’s not telling.
I asked the artist what he thought was the role of the High in Atlanta’s arts community. He blanches at first, chuckling at the “loaded question.”
“I used to…like many artists, I felt like an outsider,” he admits. “Even though I was an Atlanta artist, I felt that I wasn’t really a part of the bigger art world, the museum scene. And in fact, I used to live on the very spot where this museum is, there was an apartment complex that was our dormitory and I lived here when I was a student at Atlanta College of Art. So for me to be back here now to be on this spot and have a piece in the museum’s permanent collection…you can’t explain the depth of emotion that I’m feeling at this moment.”
I asked Sherer for his definition of drawing. He said that it’s an immediate expression that comes straight out of your brain and the mark is made directly on the paper. That kind of intimacy that may help connect audiences to the work might also help connect the High Museum to its artists.
Drawing Inside the Perimeter at the High Museum closes Sunday, September 22nd. For more information, you can visit Atlanta PlanIt.