Art museum's expanded facility opens today

The High Museum of Art has always been a place to see paintings, drawings and sculptures, but now it is also a place to get a cup of coffee, meet friends or just sit and relax. The museum's expansion, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, opens to the public today.

"Obviously, it's a tremendously exciting time for Atlanta and the arts community here," said Michael Shapiro, director of the High, during last week's media preview of the museum.

The main entrance of the museum is now located in the Wieland Pavilion, one of the new buildings designed by Piano.

Visitors reach the entrance by walking through the Woodruff Arts Center's new central courtyard, which Piano calls a piazza. This outdoor space is surrounded by newly planted trees, the museum buildings and Table 1280, a restaurant that opened in September.

"In the center of the piazza, you will feel part of this community," Piano said during last week's preview of the museum.

The architect designed both the museum buildings and Table 1280 with glass walls that visitors can see into from outside in the piazza. From inside the museum, the city around the campus can be seen.

The museum lobby now includes a coffee bar and gift shop. The space is much larger than the High's former front entrance, which opened onto Peachtree Street.

The museum expansion also added parking and office space, as well as gallery space, to the Woodruff Arts Center. The campus is also the home for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta College of Art, the Alliance Theatre and Young Audiences educational arts group. The center is expected to become an around-the-clock arts destination.

Two of the new buildings, the Wieland Pavilion and the Anne Cox Chambers Wing, will be used to display both traveling exhibits and the High's own collection of modern and contemporary art.

Older European and American artwork, as well as the museum's growing folk art collection, will be shown in the 1983 High building that was designed by Richard Meier. Glass bridges connect this structure, now called the Stent Family Wing, to Piano's Wieland Pavilion.

The ceilings of the top floors of both Wieland Pavilion and the Anne Cox Chambers wing have hundreds of "light scoops," which are tiny skylights that allow natural light to illuminate the galleries.

The expansion has doubled the High's exhibit space, allowing the museum to showcase even more artwork.

"We have evolved into the leading cultural institution of the Southeastern United States. We are in a period of dynamic transformation," Shapiro said.